Centre explores options as truckers’ stir enters seventh day (Roundup)

January 11th, 2009 - 6:30 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 11 (IANS) The nationwide truckers’ strike entered the seventh day Sunday despite several states using provisions of law to term it illegal even as Union Surface Transport Minister T.R. Baalu called a meeting with his state-level counterparts here Monday to find ways to end the impasse.The government also claimed it had the support of the All India Confederation of Goods Vehicle Owners’ Associations in ensuring that movement of trucks starts in some states and to facilitate supplies of essential commodities.

“Trucks have started plying in various parts of the country including Mumbai, Pune, Vijaywada, Hassan and Jaipur among others. The situation is improving in other parts,” Transport Secretary Brahm Dutt told reporters here Sunday.

He said the government was willing to hold talks with the protesters to find a solution, but the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), which called the stir, made it clear that no parleys were possible until their leaders were let off by authorities.

At least five of the union’s leaders were arrested under the provisions of the Essential Services Maintenance Act, invoked by several states including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh, as also the National Security Act.

Those arrested included AIMTC president Charan Singh Lohara and its secretary S. Venugopal, who had told IANS Friday that no talks would be possible unless every member of his union was released.

“We will not go for talks with the government until our members are freed and freed unconditionally,” said Vinish Khanna, the joint secretary of the union, the apex body of transporters.

“We will continue our strike,” he said Sunday, adding an estimated six million trucks have been off the roads since Monday.

The truckers were also unimpressed by Petroleum Minister Murli Deora’s statement Saturday that the government was looking at a Rs.3 per litre cut in diesel prices.

The AIMTC is demanding a reduction of at least Rs.10 a litre in prices of diesel, a 35 percent cut in prices of tyres and a uniform value-added tax across the states.

The truck operators have been on a nationwide strike since Monday that has not only disrupted interstate movement of goods, including those meant for exports, but also sent prices of fruits and vegetables spiralling.

The government has been seeking cooperation from the All India Confederation of Goods Vehicle Owners’ Associations, who are not participating in the strike, to ensure smooth movement of goods and commodities.

The government also decided to give temporary permits for 7-15 days to allow free flow of goods across borders among states and to suspend or revoke the permit of strikers under Section 86 (e) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.

Industry lobbies like the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) have appealed to the truckers to call off their agitation as the country was going through an economic turmoil.

“The strikers need to sit across the table with concerned authorities and sort out their demands in an amicable manner and try to keep petty issues on margins at times when India is trying its best to fight global slowdown,” said Assocham president Sajjan Jindal.

Industry representatives also said that the strike by transporters would push up cost of essential commodities manifold and fuel inflation beyond unmanageable limits in near future, which had started moderating to single digit level in recent months

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