Indian truckers call off eight-day strike (Roundup)

January 12th, 2009 - 10:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyNew Delhi, Jan 12 (IANS) In a development that would bring relief to households and the corporate sector alike, Indian transporters called off their eight-day nationwide strike Monday after agreeing to the government’s proposal for a mechanism to look into their demands, including a single national permit and cut in diesel prices.The government Monday agreed to form a committee headed by Transport Secretary Brahm Dutt to look into issues such as a single national permit for truckers to ensure their free movement across states and rationalisation of service tax.

Some six million trucks were off the roads since last Monday, as the truckers also pressed for a cut in diesel prices, which has been virtually assured by the petroleum ministry within the next 10 days.

Surface Transport Minister T.R. Baalu assured transporters that the government would also direct agencies to revoke cases against their leaders arrested under the National Security Act and the Essential Services Maintenance Act.

At least five leaders of the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), which spearheaded the agitation, were arrested Saturday and sent to judicial custody. Their custody was extended by a Delhi court Monday.

“It has been decided that a dispute redressal mechanism would be constituted, which will be headed by the transport secretary and other senior officials from state governments, including four members from the unions,” Baalu told reporters here.

“A standing committee would be constituted, which will look into the grievances of transporters. The committee has been asked to submit its report in eight weeks,” he added.

The truck operators were on a nationwide strike since Jan 5, demanding a reduction of at least Rs.10 a litre in prices of diesel, 35 percent cut in prices of tyres and a uniform value-added tax across the states.

Welcoming the end of the strike, industry forum FICCI said the strike had created uncertainty and a bottleneck right when the economy was going through a critical phase of slowdown. The continuation of the strike would have imposed further strains through increase in prices and discontinuation of industrial activity.

Premier exporters’ organisation Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) last week said the Indian economy could lose Rs.10 billion (Rs.1,000 crore) daily on account of the truckers’ strike.

The agitation disrupted inter-state movement of goods, including those meant for exports and also resulted in the prices of fruits and vegetables soaring.

Accusing oil companies of committing a Satyam Computers-like financial fraud, striking truckers last Thursday demanded a “thorough audit” of the oil firms and asked the government to issue a white paper on this.

To build up pressure on the striking truckers, the government threatened to suspend permits of their vehicles.

The issue also attained political colour with opposition parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) asking the government to heed the demands of truckers. “The government must talk to striking truckers on their ‘reasonable demands’ to end the hardships of the common man,” BJP leader L.K. Advani said last week.

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