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|October 20, 1999||
Truck strike against diesel hike: States to invoke Essentials Act
A 'total' strike of transporters all over the country from 0600 hours IST from Thursday (October 21) appeared imminent with the All-India Motor Transport Congress ruling out any change in their action plan unless the Centre rolled back the recent 35 per cent hike in diesel prices.
The central government has permitted the state governments to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act to prevent escalation in prices of essential commodities in the wake of the proposed indefinite strike.
AIMTC president O P Aggarwal said that the transporters would not accept anything but a decision by the government to revert the diesel prices to the October 5 level. The prices were hiked from Rs 10.36 to Rs 13.91.
Earlier in the evening, Agarwal told reporters that office-bearers of the apex body of the transporters held talks with Surface Transport Minister Nitish Kumar and Petroleum Minister Ram Naik today, but the ''government had nothing to offer''.
The Union Cabinet is understood to have discussed the diesel price hike issue tonight, but did not take any decision on the demands of the transporters.
AIMTC had made a representation to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee seeking his intervention in the national interest to roll back the diesel prices as it prevailed on October 5 so that the transporters were not ''compelled to suspend their work".
The Centre today said the state governments were free to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act or ESMA to prevent escalation in the prices of essential commodities in the wake of proposed indefinite strike by truck operators.
Addressing a joint press conference, the secretary, ministry of surface transport, Ashok Joshi, and secretary, ministry of petroleum and natural gas, S Narayan, expressed confidence the truckers would either postpone their agitation or it would not have much effect.
However, the AIMTC said it would go ahead with the strike to force the government to roll back the hike in diesel prices.
Both the secretaries, however, maintained that while the transporters were asking the government to roll back the price hike, they had already hiked their transportation charges.
"When it was pointed out to them, the transporters said they could charge higher freight only till Diwali,'' Joshi said. After that, the transport sector will have to face a sharp slump in view of the ongoing recession in the industry.
Joshi said the transporters revealed that the biggest problem before them was that nearly 90 per cent of the trucks operated on long-term agreement where there was no provision of a price escalation. He said both Petroleum Minister Ram Naik and Surface Transport Minister Nitish Kumar had assured them that the government would take up this problem with the various trade chambers so that they could get a hike in the long-term rate contracts.
In the meantime, the government will also request the various government agencies to review their long-term contracts with the truckers.
They said the government is ready to hold further talks with the truckers and they have also expressed their willingness to take part in future discussions.
Meanwhile, several state governments have taken measures to overcome problems during the strike. Government and private vehicles are being pressed into service to ferry essential commodities.
Office-bearers of the Maharashtra Tank, Lorry Owners Association and the Bombay Goods Transport Association said the worst affected due to hike in the prices of diesel, are small operators and owners of two- or three- wheelers. "They are not going to benefit from the increase in freight and its benefits will be to big transporters only. Small lorry owners will be hit also due to adulteration in fuel as the price gap between diesel and kerosene is almost double, making it vulnerable for maximum adulteration," they said in a statement.
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