Over six million trucks off roads, shortages feared (Lead, changing dateline)

January 5th, 2009 - 1:49 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) Over six million trucks went off the roads across India at midnight as transport operators started an indefinite strike to press their demand for cheaper disel and tyres. Traders immediately raised fears of shortages, especially of food.The trucks went off the roads in the early hours of Monday following a strike call given by the All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC). Their main demand is a Rs.10 reduction in diesel price and rationalisation of tyre prices in view of the economic slowdown.

Road, Transport and Highways Secretary Brahm Dutt held last-minute talks with AIMTC representatives Sunday in an effort to avert the strike, but the deadlock continued.

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

He said the government has failed to address concerns of the transporters. “We are left with no option but to stay off roads. I haven’t heard anything from the government recently.”

Lohara said that trucks loaded before the strike started would deliver their consignments.

Traders in Chandigarh and Jalandhar Monday expressed the 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 (the strike) at the earliest,” vegetables commission agent Ramesh Chander told IANS in Chandigarh.

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

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

“The price of Air Turbine Fuel 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,” AIMTC secretary general S. 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. No one knows why the government is not willing to look into this issue.”

The AIMTC had also held agitation in New Delhi Dec 10 during the parliament session to press its demands.

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