A day after 110 people, mostly strikers from the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC), were arrested for breaking into the residence of NCP leader Sharad Pawar in Mumbai and throwing shoes, police cleared the Azad Maidan on Saturday, where hundreds of staff had been protesting since last November demanding the company be merged with the state government.
Before expelling them, the Azad Maidan police issued a preventive notice to all staff members under Article 149 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to prevent offenses that may be committed.
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The notice stated that in relation to the incident at Pawar’s residence, Silver Oak, the police were instructed to ensure that no untoward incidents occur in Mumbai and the state. He added that it is the duty of the staff members to cooperate with the police to maintain law and order and ensure that no illegal acts are committed by them in Mumbai as well as Maharashtra.
The notice further stated that in the event of an unfortunate incident, creating a public order situation, or in the event of a recognizable or non-recognizable violation, legal action would be taken against the workers.
The protest site looked deserted on Saturday afternoon as workers began to leave early in the morning. While a few protesters left the scene on their own, a few were taken to the police station from where they were sent home.
As police evicted protesters from Azad Maidan, hundreds of staff marched to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj terminus and sat on the docks, trying to continue their protest there.
Police said many had bought tickets to return home but were unwilling to leave. Following this, the railway police removed them from the platforms and put them on their respective trains.
Meanwhile, as arrested MSRTC staff and their lawyer Gunaratna Sadavarte appeared in court on Saturday, a few workers were found waiting outside for news of their whereabouts. At around 5 p.m., as the court sent Sadavarte to two days in custody and others in custody, people waiting outside came to support the lawyer, saying he was being penalized for supporting strikers neglected by the government.
“They haven’t come to help or talk to us as they have been protesting peacefully for the past five months. They neglected us and now they are rushing to send our colleagues to prison. Where were they for five months? We didn’t attack any place, we were just protesting. The government is playing politics and pressuring us to end the strike,” said one woman.
At around 6 p.m., Azad Maidan police arrested four other female MSRTC staff after they began shouting slogans outside the courthouse in support of Jayashri Patil, wife of Sadavarte.