Transporters call off strike, trucks back on road (Roundup)

July 4th, 2008 - 9:16 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 4 (IANS) Truck owners called off their nationwide strike early Friday after reaching an agreement with the government to lower service tax and provide unbranded diesel. “We have called off our strike since the government has assured us that our demands will be met. All our issues regarding service tax have been resolved,” said Charan Singh Lohara, president of the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) - the apex body of truck owners - after its representatives met the government and reached an agreement.

The talks between the two lasted for over 10 hours, ending at 2.30 a.m. Friday.

An AIMTC official Friday afternoon said that the trucks were back on roads. “But it would take some time to normalise the situation.”

The AIMTC began the strike after talks with the government failed Tuesday night. Several rounds of talks Wednesday had also remained inconclusive.

The AIMTC claims to represent nearly 4.8 million truck and two million mini-truck operators. The truckers were demanding a roll-back of hike in toll tax, honouring of the service tax agreement of 2004 and availability of non-branded diesel and removal of speed governors on highways.

The final meeting was attended by revenue secretary P.V Bhide, officials of the transport ministry and National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), and representatives of AIMTC.

After the meeting, transport secretary Brahm Dutt said the toll rates applicable before December 2007 will be applied now. He said there would be no increase in toll for a period of one year on government-funded 770 km of national highways.

Also, the service tax agreement of 2004 would be followed, he said.

The petroleum ministry has also assured truck owners that unbranded diesel would be made available at normal rates at petrol pumps and retail outlets. Unbranded diesel is cheaper than the branded varieties by Rs.2.20 a litre.

Dutt said the government would set up a committee led by the NHAI chairman for reviewing, overseeing and monitoring the toll systems. The committee will have power to examine the standard and service levels provided by operators and will recommend suitable corrective measures.

On the issue of toll-tax on private-funded roads, Dutt said it would be collected and revised as per agreement with the government and the developers.

According to Lohara, the committee will submit its report within nine months from the date of its constitution, which could be extendable by three months.

Lohara added that all service tax notices sent to truckers would be withdrawn as per the agreement. The two-day strike, according to Lohara, had crippled goods movement in various parts of the country.

Contrary to the claim made by the AIMTC, a transport monitoring agency Thursday said the protest was unwarranted and it was only a pressure tactic by truck owners to wriggle out of tax evasion cases.

S.P. Singh, coordinator of the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRE), claimed that over 10 major state bodies had categorically announced their dissociation from the transport strike called by the AIMTC.

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