The strike was called by CITU, the labour arm of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist(CPI-M), hours after the central government Friday ended government curbs on petroleum pricing and hiked the prices of diesel, kerosene and cooking gas.

Normal life was badly hit in West Bengal as buses, taxis and autorickshaws went off the roads Saturday in response to a public transport strike called by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) against the fuel price hike.

Despite being a holiday for government employees, commuters were inconvenienced as a handful of taxis and autorickshaws that plied made a killing by charging exorbitant fares.

Ferry services on various rivers across the state also did not operate.

The strike was called by CITU, the labour arm of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist(CPI-M), hours after the central government Friday ended government curbs on petroleum pricing and hiked the prices of diesel, kerosene and cooking gas.

Criticising the Central government for burdening the common man with the hike in oil prices at a time of high inflation, the Left parties on Saturday staged a demonstration at Jantar Mantar, demanding that the increase in the prices of petrol, diesel, LPG and kerosene be immediately rolled back.

Members of the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the All India Forward Bloc marched in unison from Jantar Mantar to Parliament Street demanding urgent steps to control the high inflation rate and high prices of essential commodities.

“Heavy blow on people”

The demonstration was addressed by CPI (M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat and CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan. Both leaders criticised the Centre for “inflicting this heavy blow on the common man at a time when the country was facing a very high inflation rate, especially in food items.''

They also accused the government of putting the burden on the common people to help increase the profits of the corporate sector.

Ms. Karat criticised the United Progressive Alliance allies for their shadow boxing with the Centre on the issue of price rise and added that when the Left was providing outside support to the government at the Centre it did not allow it to increase the prices of kerosene and LPG.

Mr. Bardhan said: “This government has forgotten the poor and is helping only the capitalists of the country.'' He added that the CPI and all other Left parties will be holding an all-India agitation on the issue of price rise and food security on July 1.

Appeal to public

The protesters demanded that the Centre immediately withdraw its decision to increase the prices and also appealed to the general public to strengthen the country-wide movement against the “anti-people policies” of the Congress-led government.

Meanwhile, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-New Democracy also organised a protest, stating that the increase in prices of fuels showed that the Centre was not concerned about the poor.

Price spiral

In a separate protest on the same issue, members of the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) took out a protest march from Jantar Mantar to highlight how the increase in the prices of petroleum products would lead to a price spiral in the goods of daily use and consequently have a disastrous effect on the common man.

SUCI activists wanted to march up to the Prime Minister's residence but were detained by the police.