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Truckers' strike hits ports; prices up
April 16, 2003 16:10 IST
Many Indian ports were paralysed on Wednesday and food prices nationwide started soaring as a truckers strike dragged into its third day.
The country's biggest car-maker, Maruti Udyog Ltd, a unit of Japan's Suzuki Motor Corp, said it might temporarily shut down production as the stoppage had hit component supplies.
The All India Motor Transport Congress, whose members operate around three million trucks, said it was open to talks with the government but there had been no word on discussions to end the stoppage, called to protest fuel prices and other issues.
"The ball is in the government's court," AIMTC vice-president Shyam Kumar Gupta said.
"We've been trying to resolve this through talks for the last two years and have resorted to this as they gave us no alternative."
The truckers, who carry the bulk of India's freight, went off the roads on Monday to back demands for stable diesel prices, minimum freight rates and fewer levies and taxes and the repeal of an order to scrap trucks older than 15 years.
Cargo movement to and from Kandla Port, one of India's busiest, has come to a standstill and operations may have to be suspended soon, said one official.
"We are using our storage area to store dry goods and liquid cargoes...but if the strike goes on, then the entire operations will come to a stop," R T Revankar, Kandla's traffic manager, said.
Trucking unions said they had exempted vehicles moving milk and cooking gas from the strike and vegetables and fruits were still being delivered by smaller vehicles.
But shop owners in many parts of India said prices had begun to shoot up due to erratic deliveries and fears of shortages.
"If the strike continues for a few more days, people will face a crisis as fruits and vegetables may start running out," A C Roy Choudhury, president of a fruit and vegetable merchants' association in the eastern state of West Bengal, told Reuters.
Traders in Bombay, India's commercial hub, said prices had increased as supplies could not keep pace with demand.
"We've had to increase prices of grains and lentils by about 10 per cent," said Bombay grocery store owner Selvi Nadar.
Port officials in Bombay said they were also facing major problems.
"About 80 per cent of our storage capacity is full and we can handle deliveries only for another two to three days," said port secretary Saroj Tahiliani.
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