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Truckers threaten 3-mth stir

August 26, 2004

Truck operators, whose six-day old strike has disrupted movement of goods and shot up prices of essential commodities, on Thursday, threatened to keep their vehicles off the roads for three months if the government did not revoke a new service tax on freight booking agents.

"If our demand is not met immediately, we are willing to continue this strike for three months," said B N Dhumal, president of the All India Motor Transport Congress, the largest union of truck owners in the country.

After Wednesday's failed talks between the government and AIMTC, the striking truckers refused further talks apparently angered at the arrest of O P Agrawal, chairman of All India Motor Transport Welfare Assocation by Delhi police under Essential Service Maintenance Act.

"We are willing to talk but use of police force against our peaceful agitation will only precipitate the situation," AIMTC secretary general J M Saksena said.

Dhumal said if Agrawal is not released the exemption given to essential services will be withdrawn from Friday.

Meanwhile, the government kept a close vigil on the situation developing out of stoppage of inter-state movement of goods particularly perishable commodities, which had led to shooting up of prices by as much as 25-30 per cent.

"Cabinet secretary B K Chaturvedi is regularly reviewing the situation with concerned ministries," official sources said.

The strike has also affected industrial production due to disruption in raw material and component supplies and movement of finished goods out of factories besides halving diesel sales by oil firms, who have in six days lost Rs 450 crore (Rs4.5 billion).

According to the control room set up in New Delhi, the strike had a major effect in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa even as Chhattisgarh imposed ESMA. Parts of Karnataka were also hit by the stir while the Tamil Nadu Lorry Owners' Federation decided not to support the strike.

"Tankers carrying fuel (petrol, diesel and LPG) are not participating in the strike," oil industry officials said.

There were no reports of shortage of supplies of milk and vegetable from anywhere in the country but prices firmed up in anticipation of supply disruption.

"Delhi is receiving its quota of fruits and vegetables from Punjab. Today a convoy of trucks carrying apples started from Himachal Pradesh to Delhi under police protection," an official at the control room said.

Dhumal said, "We request the government to understand that we are not against the service tax. Our opposition is to the transporting community being made responsible to collect the same. We request the government to change the modality of collection of service tax, we should be spared of this responsibility."

With three-fifth of the country's goods transported on 2.52 million km of roads, the strike threatens to slow economic activity and hike inflation, which is already at a three-and-half year high of 7.96 per cent.

A 9-day truckers strike in April in 2003 slowed industrial growth to 4.9 per cent, compared with over six per cent growth between January and March that year.

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