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Truckers choke birds’ lifeline

Chennai, April 18: Over two lakh birds in Tamil Nadu’s poultry belt, extending from Namakkal to Coimbatore, are staring starvation deaths in the face because of the truckers’ strike.

The five-day-old strike has kept poultry feed from reaching the farms. While poultry owners have sought and got police escorts for egg-laden trucks headed for the market, no such demand has been made for the bird feed.

An estimate of the number of birds that have already perished is not available but sources in Namakkal and Coimbatore said there was cause for concern, not alarm.

Police escorted nearly 180 lorries that have since yesterday carted out over 2.35 crore eggs to other parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which would otherwise have rotted in the heat.

The truckers had initially exempt essential commodities from the strike. But in the last two days, trucks were not plying in the Namakkal belt, the heart of the poultry industry. Poultry owners approached police yesterday to “save the hatched eggs”. Arrangements were made to move the egg-laden lorries to the markets in convoys with police escorts.

“If they had made a similar plea for moving poultry-feed on an urgent basis, we would have logistically helped them out in that also, but till this evening no such request has come from the poultry farmers,” said a police official in Namakkal. For security reasons, guided convoys could not be operated in the night but “we can consider any plea to help move poultry-feed during the day tomorrow.”

Appeal to Naidu

The truckers’ strike has hit the common man hard, with prices of commodities continuing to soar across the country.

Talks between the striking transporters and the government have not made much headway, with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and minister of state for surface transport B.C. Khanduri away in Srinagar.

Reports from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh all point to further trouble as prices of essential commodities kept increasing amid fears of disruption in movements of petrol, diesel, LPG, medicines and milk.

The truckers have demanded an end to the fluctuation in diesel prices, immunity from the proposed Value Added Tax and repeal of the order to discard 15-year-old trucks.

The All India Motor Transport Congress, the largest truckers’ union with 27 lakh vehicles in its fold, today sought Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu’s intervention to help break the impasse over the strike.

Union president B.N. Dhumal said Naidu had assured the truckers that he would take up the matter with the Prime Minister.

Petroleum minister Ram Naik was hopeful of an early solution.

As a result of the truckers’ strike, consumers are having to shell out up to 20 per cent more for fruits and vegetables while the fear of shortage of milk, fuel and medicines looms.

Transport of commodities like sugar has also been hit. Tonnes of perishable commodities have started rotting in godowns and movement of goods for export has been hit.

“If the strike goes beyond April 22, then we will have to stop production as there will not be any material left to produce cars,” Hyundai Motor India president B.V.R. Subbu said.

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