After traders, it’s the turn of the transporters to cripple merchandise in the city.
Markets are staring at a goods crisis and escalated prices, as transporters in the city have called for an indefinite strike from Monday to protest VAT and the re-imposition of the entry tax.
Members of Calcutta Goods Transport Association, which has signalled the strike, said about four lakh trucks and Matadors plying to and from the city will be taken off the streets until their nine-point charter of demands was met.
The charter includes withdrawal of entry tax, interest-free loans for new vehicles (if the old one is to be scrapped on pollution grounds), fixing the minimum freight price, amendment of the 150-year-old Carriers Act (with a provision of mandatory insurance of goods by goods-owners) and withdrawal of the cess on diesel.
At a meeting with the association held last week, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty had urged the members not to go on an indefinite strike, but the transporters seem firm on their decision. “Neither the state government nor the Centre heard our plea to take note of the problems faced by transporters, despite several requests. The transport business is going through a crisis at the moment and the fate of several thousands involved in the trade is at stake. Our demand for an amicable settlement went unheeded. Now, we have no alternative but to resort to an indefinite strike,’’ said Raja Roy, general secretary of the Calcutta Goods Transport Association.
The state administration fears the strike will hit supply of goods and trigger a sharp rise in prices if transporters stick to their agenda.
“What can I do' Most of their demands have to be met by the Central government. I tried to convince the transporters that VAT has not yet been introduced and the cess on diesel is nothing new. So, there is no justification in calling a strike on the issue. I urged them to rethink their demands and not to call the strike on Monday, because it is Bengali New Year. Now it’s up to them. I do not want to do anything forcibly,’’ minister Chakraborty said. He admitted that he supports “some of their demands”.
Roy, however, said his colleagues were tired of empty promises from political leaders, ministers and bureaucrats. “We realise that people will suffer, as the strike might spark a shortage in supply of commodities and prices will shoot up, but we are helpless,’’ Roy added.
The transport minister said he would make a last-ditch effort to pacify the transporters and prevent them from going on the indefinite strike.
Of around four lakh trucks plying in the state, nearly two lakh ferry goods to the city markets. Besides, about 50,000 medium goods vehicles, such as Matadors, operate in the city as well, distributing goods to small traders.