Trucks go off roads, food shortages feared (Second Lead)

January 5th, 2009 - 3:16 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) Over six million trucks went off roads across India in the early hours of Monday, a day after talks with the government over their demand to reduce prices of diesel and tyres failed. Traders voiced fears of food shortages as the indefinite strike started.The truckers started their strike following a call given by the All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) after last-minute talks with Road, Transport and Highways Secretary Brahm Dutt Sunday failed to break the deadlock.

AIMTC’s main demands include a Rs.10 reduction in diesel price and rationalisation of tyre prices in view of the economic slowdown.

“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 Monday.

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.”

AIMTC secretary S. Venugopal said: “We are on an indefinite strike. We never wanted such a situation. We have tried our best to sort out the issue with the government. But the government does not seem to be interested in our demands. We have been forced to take this drastic step.”

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

However, in New Delhi, few trucks carrying vegetables and fruits reached the Azadpur Mandi Monday. “Most of the trucks have not reached our mandi today (Monday) morning,” said a worker at Azadpur Mandi, Asia’s largest wholesale fruit and vegetable market.

Traders in Chandigarh and Jalandhar expressed 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 Uttar Pradesh government took pre-emptive steps to ensure supply of food and other daily necessities, though the state’s Truck Operators’ Federation assured that the strike will not affect trucks bringing in essential commodities.

Uttar Pradesh transport commissioner K.S. Atoria said small vehicles have been deployed to ensure supply of edible and other perishable items.

He said control rooms in various districts will also be established to counter the effects of strike.

Nearly 50,000 trucks in Uttar Pradesh went off the roads Monday.

Uttar Pradesh Truck Operators’ Federation general secretary Virendra Tandon said: “From today (Monday) morning we have suspended loading and unloading work and even directed the truck operators not to take any fresh orders.”

In Ahmedabad, Akhil Gujarat Truck Transport Association secretary Mukesh Dave said: “There has been no patient hearing of our demands. From today (Monday), we are going on chakka jam (strike) and there will be no plying of trucks.”

He said despite talks with Brahm Dutt Sunday and three rounds of talks with joint secretaries in finance, petroleum and surface transport ministries, nothing concrete had emerged.

“Our demand is that the invidious toll tax levied should be scrapped. It has gone up to Rs.2-3 per km. There are 70,000 km of national highways; of these the increased toll tax is affecting 45,000 km while on the remaining 35,000 km efforts are on to bring it into its ambit,” Dave said.

Pointing to a recent study, he said the total taxes collected from the road transport sector was double that of expenditure on all roads, including the cost of administration.

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,” 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.”

Some of the demands by AIMTC include total exemption from service tax to road transport industry, not imposing toll tax for six months and free movement of all vehicles across the country without any national and state permit.

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

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