Shutdown hits life in Andhra Pradesh (Lead)

June 6th, 2008 - 6:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Hyderabad, June 6 (IANS) Normal life came to a standstill in parts of Andhra Pradesh as a day-long shutdown called by opposition parties to protest the steep hike in fuel prices evoked a mixed response. Transport services were affected and businesses forced to down shutters in most parts of the state.

Barring minor incidents, the shutdown passed off peacefully. However, hundreds of protestors were arrested for blocking road and rail traffic.

The shutdown evoked partial response in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam but was total in other major towns like Vijayawada and Kurnool.

The main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) had called the state-wide strike to protest the government decision Wednesday hiking prices of petrol by Rs.5 per litre, diesel by Rs.3 per litre and cooking gas Rs.50 per cylinder.

Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which is fighting for separate statehood for Telangana, also called for the shutdown in the region. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blockaded rail tracks to protest the hike.

Protesters laid siege to bus stations and depots of the state-owned Andhra Pradesh Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) in all 23 districts early morning and did not allow the buses to come out. TRS activists also damaged a few buses in Medak and Nizamabad districts.

APSRTC could run only few services. The inter-district services were badly hit. The state-owned corporation has a fleet of 20,000 buses, which carry 10 million passengers daily.

The impact was total in Hyderabad and many towns in the initial hours but as the day progressed many shops opened and vehicular traffic also increased.

TDP activists took out a massive scooter rally in the state capital. Covering 50 km distance, the rally led by party legislator T. Srinivas Yadav forced the shopkeepers to down shutters.

TDP president and leader of opposition N. Chandrababu Naidu led the protest against price-rise by cooking food on firewood along with women activists of the party on a road in Eluru town in West Godavari district.

The former chief minister also drove a bullock cart as a novel protest against the hike. He said the decision of the state government to totally absorb the hike in cooking gas price was not enough and demanded that it slash taxes on petrol and diesel.

TDP parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu pulled a cycle rickshaw in Srikakulam as part of the protest.

In another novel protest, TDP and TRS activists in Nizamabad shaved their heads and shouted slogans against the state and central governments.

In Khammam, Left activists damaged a few buses. Sit-in protests were also staged on major highways, bringing vehicular traffic to a halt.

Meanwhile, an indefinite strike by taxi drivers and private bus operators in the state capital entered the second day.

For the second day, over 25,000 cabs and private buses remained off the roads, badly hitting the information technology companies and call centres and people wanting to reach airports or railway stations.

With few APSRTC buses plying, air passengers to and from the state capital here had a especially tough time, as the new airport is located 35 km from the city centre.

The IT companies hire cabs to provide pick and drop facilities to about 150,000 employees. The employees had used buses to reach their offices Thursday. With the shutdown paralysing bus services, some IT companies declared a holiday Friday.

The Greater Hyderabad Cabs and Bus Operators’ Association (GHCBOA) has called the indefinite strike to protest against the government decision to impose 12.5 percent VAT.

A section of auto-rickshaw drivers also launched an indefinite strike demanding hike in the minimum fare from Rs.9 to Rs.17 per km, following the hike in petrol prices. However, few three-wheelers participated in the strike. Majority of auto-rickshaws were seen plying.

TDP and BJP activists squatted on railway tracks at Nampally and Secunderabad railway stations, delaying the departure of a few trains. Holding party flags, they raised slogans against the government. The police arrested about 100 protesters and cleared the tracks.

Shops and business establishments remained closed. A few shops that had opened were forced to down shutters by the protesters. Universities postponed entrance tests in view of the shutdown.

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