The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Truck talks trip, but essentials spared

New Delhi, April 17: Striking transporters today decided to continue carrying essential commodities across the country, backing down from an earlier decision to stop doing so from Friday if the government failed to reach an agreement to end the four-day-old strike.

Earlier in the day, the talks between the government and the striking transporters failed to break the deadlock, sparking the prospect of a halt in the movement of essential commodities.

In the evening, officials of the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) decided to leave essential commodities out of the purview of the strike. “We have decided to continue to exempt the transport of milk, medicines and LPG from the purview of the strike in view of the hardships the public will then have to face. But we have decided to continue with the strike for all other commodities,” said J.M. Saksena, secretary general of the AIMTC.

In the morning, the meeting between the striking transporters led by the AIMTC and B.C. Khanduri, the minister of roadways and highways, failed to reach an agreement. “The government told us about its inability to take any unilateral action on our demands since it involves inter-ministerial issues,” said Saksena.

The AIMTC delegation has demanded that all the parties concerned, including the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, be called for a meeting.

“The minister agreed to this and said he would request the Prime Minister to intervene and call a meeting. We have not been told about any government decision on our demands. Hence, we have been forced to continue with our strike,” said Saksena.

The truckers’ demands include protection against fluctuation in diesel prices and exemption from the value-added tax (VAT).

At the meeting today, Khanduri iterated the government position that the value-added tax that is set to replace different sales tax levies across states would not apply to truckers since they do not fall under service provider category and do not pay sales tax. Khanduri said: “I have requested them to call off their strike and promised to examine their demands with all seriousness. We are committed to finding a solution but they have to call off their strike.”

He said the petroleum ministry has also responded with a three-month package, where the transporters and government can agree on a fixed price for petrol and diesel. Once that is agreed, the transporters should be willing to accept the loss or profit based on the fluctuation of world crude oil price.

Saksena said: “None of our demands is new and all these have been discussed with the secretaries in the past. The consensus reached or the recommendations of the secretaries are not accepted by the ministries.”

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