Truckers back on track

deepak pace

Truckers, who had been on a strike for the past eight days — demanding reduction in diesel prices by Rs 10 per litre, exemption in service and toll taxes and a single permit for nationwide transportation — today called off their agitation following negotiations between the government and the representatives of the All India Motors Transport Congress (AIMTC).

The decision to call off the stir was taken after Transport Minister TR Baalu, Secretary Brahm Dutt and other officials of the Transport Ministry held two rounds of talks with the representatives of AIMTC. “The strike has been called off,” Dutt said after the second round of talks with the truckers in the afternoon.
Baalu, who had in the morning called the meeting of transport commissioners of all the states, apparently gave an assurance to the truckers to set up a mechanism to look into their demands.
The talks with the government also came as a face saver for the truckers who saw the agitation losing steam over the past few days, particularly as a result of rival unions sticking with the government. Yesterday, the truckers Mahasangh in Maharashtra had decided to break away from the strike following assurances from the state government.
Besides, there had been hardly any effect on the supply and movement of the essential commodities with the government enlisting the support of the rival union of the AIMTC and also roping in the railways for movement of goods.
Transport Ministry has agreed to form a committee, headed by the Transport Secretary, to look into issues such as a single national permit for truckers to ensure their free movement across states and rationalisation of service tax.
The AIMTC members approached the government for talks as the latter continued to talk tough and also asked the states to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). AIMTC claimed that about six lakh trucks had been off the roads since Monday last in support of their demands. Incidentally, the Petroleum Ministry had already given an assurance over cutting the price of diesel over the next few days. Baalu also assured the transporters that the government will also direct agencies to revoke cases against their leaders arrested under ESMA. At least five leaders of AIMTC, which spearheaded the agitation, were arrested under ESMA on Saturday and sent to judicial custody.
Following the talks, Baalu told reporters, “It has been decided that a dispute redressal mechanism would be constituted, which will be headed by transport secretary and other senior officials from state governments, including four members from the unions.” “A standing committee would be constituted, which will look into the grievances of transporters. The panel has been asked to submit its report in eight weeks,” he added. Meanwhile, industry has expressed relief over truckers ending their strike. According to Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), the end of strike was a matter of relief as it was ‘holding up major economic activities, including transportation of essential goods’. CII expressed the hope that the transporters would get their demands resolved without disrupting the economy in future. Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries on the other hand said the strike had created an uncertainty at a time when the economy was going through a critical phase. “Continuation of the strike would have imposed further strain through increase in prices and disruption in industrial activity,” it said.