Even as the nationwide indefinite strike called by the All-India Motor Transport Congress started today, the government has hardened its position stating that the demands raised by the truckers are unreasonable and cannot be met. It has also threatened them with cancellation of their permits.
The truck operators' demands include reduction in diesel price by Rs 10 per litre and tyre prices by 35 per cent, moratorium on payment of instalment and waiver of interest on truck finances, moratorium on payment of toll tax for six months and abolition of service tax on any service provided by goods transport agencies.
"Most of the demands raised by the truckers are unreasonable and unjustified. It would not be possible for any government authority to take any decisive action on these issues within such a short span of time," said Brahm Dutt, secretary, ministry of road transport and highways.
Meanwhile, the government has given clear instructions to the state governments to take necessary steps to ensure smooth transportation of essential commodities. "If the situation demands, the law of the land will prevail. The law of the land says that the permit of truck operators could be revoked if the situation demands. The government is committed to provide full support to the state governments," said Dutt.
With the All-India Confederation of Goods Vehicle Owners Association deciding to stay away from the agitation, the indefinite strike called by the AIMTC could evoke only a partial response in the country.
Truck movement was affected in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, where the AIMTC has mass support.
Industry sources said the movement of trucks carrying vegetables and fruits to the agriculture produce marketing centres of Vashi (Navi Mumbai), Azadpur Mandi (Delhi), Howrah (West Bengal) and Bengaluru remained unaffected. AICOGVOA Vice President Chitranjan Das said, "Nearly 20 per cent of the trucks would have kept off the road, which is mainly on account of the economic slowdown."
However, truck operators maintained they would continue with their indefinite strike till their demands were met. An AIMTC spokesperson said in Chennai that the LPG and petroleum tanker operators would join the stir on Tuesday.
"We want a special bailout package. All the demands raised by us are essential to help the truck operators overcome the economic crisis. The government has been showing a very negative approach. Therefore, we have decided to continue with the strike till our demands are met," said the AIMTC president.
Meanwhile, the strike has taken a political turn with the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main Opposition party in the Lok Sabha, asking the government to accept the truck operators' demand. "Delaying the announcement of reduction in prices may suit the political timeline of the UPA, but the masses are suffering as they have to pay highest prices in the world for petrol and diesel,'' the party said.
The BJP leaders said while the oil prices in the world had fallen by 75 per cent, the UPA government had merely responded by announcing a price cut of 10 per cent. This was helping the oil companies earn profits up to Rs 15 per litre.
Javdekar said the ad valorem duty structure had become a "weapon of loot" as the petrol which cost Rs 12 per litre to the companies was taxed at Rs 13 by the government.