India truckers strike over fuel

Nearly four million trucks are off India’s roads after their owners began an indefinite strike to protest against rising fuel bills.

The soaring global price of crude oil has led the Indian government to cut subsidies and raise prices.

Truck operators say they have been hit hard by oil prices which have risen by 40% since the beginning of the year.

Trucks carry food and other essential commodities in India. The strike is likely to push up their prices.

‘No loading’

Correspondents say that with 70% of goods being transported by truck across India, a prolonged strike will have a serious affect on the country’s economy.

Television footage showed goods that would normally have been transported by the vehicles being stacked at farmers markets, docks and warehouses.

“As of now, no orders are being booked, no loading or delivery is in progress,” Mukesh Dave, the head of the lorry drivers’ association in the western state of Gujarat, told the Press Trust of India.

Truck depots across the country were jammed with stationary vehicles parked in long lines throughout Wednesday.

“Because of the increase in the diesel prices our cost of operation has gone up, but the traders who send their stuff through us are not ready to pay more,” truck owner Sachin Sehgal said.

Hundreds of protesters held a rally on Wednesday in the southern city of Madras, where there were also reports of panic buying of potatoes and other staple foods.

Analysts say that the dispute will add to double-digit inflation and slow down growth in India.

A similar week-long strike in 2004 slowed down the annual growth in industrial output to 7.9% from 8.4% in the previous month as the strike disrupted shipments.

‘No choice’

Truck operators “have no choice but to stay off the roads”, Charan Singh Lohara of the All India Motor Transport Congress told the BBC.

“We are already running under huge losses. The cost of diesel is so high that we have nothing left to live on.

“The government must reduce the multiple taxes to compensate for the increasing cost of fuel.”

Mr Lohara said the operators hoped to meet Finance Minister P Chidambaram to discuss their demands, but correspondents say no progress had been made in negotiations so far between the two sides.

The operators are also protesting against road tolls imposed by the government.

In June, India raised fuel prices by 10%, the second such increase this year, because of the rising cost of oil globally.

India imports nearly 75% of its crude oil requirements and controls the price of domestic fuel products to help contain inflation and protect the poor.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister TR Baalu urged the lorry-drivers to call off the strike.

He said the government was considering more tax relief for them.

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