Truckers' stir evokes mixed response

FORCED RELIEF: Lorry drivers and workers have plenty of time on their hands as the photograph taken at Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh shows. The truckers launched an all-India strike on Saturday protesting against the levy of service tax. — Photo: K.R. Deepak  

NEW DELHI, AUG. 21. The indefinite strike by truckers in protest against the imposition of 10 per cent service tax evoked a mixed response on the first day with a section of transporters in West Bengal, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu choosing not to join the stir. The strike was near total in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa.

ESMA invoked

Gujarat and Delhi invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act amid fears of a rise in the vegetable and fruit prices. Other States are expected to follow suit. The Centre is monitoring the situation,.through a control room. The All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) claimed a massive response to its strike call. It said that thousands of lorries owned by its members went off the road when the strike began at 6 a.m. today. And the reports from other States indicated that the movement of goods had been hit substantially.

Not affected

The inter-State movement of goods was affected in Gujarat, Bihar and Assam, while Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Himachal Pradesh witnessed little or no impact, according to information from the Control Room. The Federation of West Bengal Truck Owners Associations withdrew from the strike, while Haryana, Punjab, and Mumbai and Nagpur in Maharashtra witnessed partial impact. The last-minute talks between AIMTC and the Finance Ministry to avert the strike failed to produce a solution. It is learnt that both sides are sticking to their positions with the AIMTC pressing for the withdrawal of the levy and the Government maintaining that the levy was not aimed at the operators but the booking companies that were actually the service providers. AIMTC is firm on discussing their demand only with the Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, or the Finance Secretary, D.C. Gupta.

Even as reports poured in about sections of transporters in two southern States not joining the strike, the AIMTC secretary-general, J.M. Saksena, said that thousands of trucks were standing on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border. He said the inter-State movement of goods had been hit as 90 per cent of the 40-lakh trucks hade gone off the road. "Supply of essential commodities will be normal for the first 3-4 days. We shall wait for the Government's response and review the situation," the AIMTC president, B.N. Dhumal, said.