Essential services act may be invoked over truckers’ strike (Roundup)

January 5th, 2009 - 8:49 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) The government may invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) if needed against the truckers’ indefinite strike from Monday, even while the latter asserted their strike will not disrupt supply of basic commodities.Over six million trucks went off roads across India since the early hours, triggering fears that there would be a shortfall of essential commodities, leading to a price hike across the board.

“The strike is irrational, many of the demands are state-related issues, which have to be worked out. If required, we can impose ESMA,” Transport Secretary Brahm Dutt told reporters.

“The government already announced stimulus packages, which will help even the transport sector. We have to look into their demands within the required parametres of law,” he added.

“We have told truckers to ensure that supply of vegetables, fruits and other essential needs are not affected,” S. Venugopal, the general secretary of All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), the apex body of truckers, told IANS.

AIMTC has not received any response from the government so far, Venugopal added.

The truckers went on a strike from midnight Monday, a day after talks with the government over their demand failed to reduce prices of diesel and tyres.

AIMTC’s main demands include a Rs.10 reduction in the price of diesel and rationalisation of tyre prices in view of the economic slowdown.

“The government has given economic support to several industries. But it has not given a thought towards the problems faced by the transport industry in recession. We also want a bailout package,” AIMTC president Charan Singh Lohara said.

Arguing that the government had failed to address concerns of the transporters, Lohara said: “We are left with no option but to stay off roads. I haven’t heard anything from the government recently.”

Added Venugopal: “We are on an indefinite strike. We never wanted such a situation. We have tried our best to sort out the issue with the government. But the government does not seem to be interested in our demands. We have been forced to take this drastic step.”

In the national capital, very few trucks carrying vegetables and fruits reached the Azadpur Mandi, Asia’s largest wholesale fruit and vegetable market.

Traders in Chandigarh and Jalandhar expressed fear that the strike would soon lead to shortage of fruits, vegetables and other essential commodities.

“The available stocks will not last more than two to three days. As it is, people will start storing things in panic. The government must resolve it at the earliest,” vegetables commission agent Ramesh Chander told IANS in Chandigarh.

The Uttar Pradesh government took pre-emptive steps to ensure supply of food and other daily necessities, though the state’s Truck Operators’ Federation said the strike will not affect trucks bringing in essential commodities.

Uttar Pradesh Transport Commissioner K.S. Atoria said small vehicles have been deployed to ensure supply of edible and other perishable items, and that control rooms will also be established in the districts.

In Ahmedabad, Akhil Gujarat Truck Transport Association secretary Mukesh Dave said: “Our demand is that the invidious toll tax levies should be scrapped. It has gone up to Rs.2-3 per km. Of the 70,000 km of national highways, toll tax is affecting 45,000 km, and on the remaining 35,000 km efforts are on to bring these into its ambit,” Dave said.

Transporters, who have been joined by about 4,000 truck operator associations, were dissatisfied with the diesel price cut of Rs.2 per litre announced by the government last month.

The government had earlier assured the AIMTC it would look into the oil price issue.

“The price of air turbine fuel (ATF) has gone down to Rs.42 per litre. This government is giving step-motherly treatment to the transport industry, which is the lifeline of the country,” Lohara said.

“There is a lot of scope for the government to reduce prices of diesel as the global crude oil prices have fallen to 2004 levels. The cut in diesel prices does not match the huge decline in global crude oil prices,” Venugopal said.

On the demand to rationalise tyre prices, Lohara said international rubber prices have fallen by up to 60 percent. Also, the excise duty has been reduced. “But the tyre prices remain the same.”

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