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Govt offers to freeze diesel prices for now
- Transporters remain adamant, seek fresh meeting

New Delhi, April 22: The government today offered a strike-busting formula of a temporary freeze on diesel prices as a blandishment to the transporters, but they weren’t impressed.

Making a statement in the Lok Sabha, surface transport and highways minister Maj. Gen. B. C. Khanduri (Retd) said the government was prepared to stop revising prices every fortnight if the prices fluctuated within a 25 paise range. However, if the prices crossed the 25 paise threshold, then the prices would have to be raised.

“There is no difference on the seven of the 10 demands put forth by the transporters. But we are not conceding their demands since a decision cannot be taken in isolation,” Khanduri told the House during a reply to a calling attention motion on the nationwide transport strike that entered its ninth day.

The transporters riposted that there was nothing new in the formula and they weren’t prepared to accept pre-conditions to the offer. The government has been insisting that all its offers will come on the table as soon as the transporters call off their strike.

Rejecting the government’s offer, the truckers led by the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) had demanded a meeting of all the state chief ministers and the Union petroleum and finance ministers to resolve the issues at one go.

“There is nothing new in this and the General is just showing his rigidity by sticking to the same stance since April 17. This has been a major stumbling block to an amicable solution to the problem. We reiterate that AIMTC is always open for talks but there should not be any preconditions,” said AIMTC secretary general J. M. Saksena.

Khanduri said there were no differences on seven demands of the transporters. These are: the repeal of the order pertaining to 15-year-old vehicles, disciplining of insurance companies which have been accused of charging higher premia, non-inclusion of transporters under VAT, minimum freight rates for trucks, making the national permit scheme logical, computerisation of driving licences and registration books, and amendment of the Carriers Act 1865.

However, Khanduri said the government remained inflexible on three other demands: abolition of toll tax on four lane highways, imposition of cess on diesel, and the effective control of overloaded trucks.

“On the seven points that the government says there are no difference, we would like see them come out with detailed modalities,” said Saksena. “We are prepared to discuss the other three demands. Unless and until all our demands are addressed to our satisfaction, the strike will continue and will be intensified further. In this regard, our members, led by AIMTC president Baba Sahib Dual, will sit on one day token hunger strike tomorrow at Jantar Mantar from 11 am to 5 pm,” he added.

Effigies of Khanduri and petroleum minister Ram Naik were burned in Calcutta, Raipur, Jabalpur and other parts.

The calling attention motion was made by former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Ramesh Chennithala of Congress, Kirit Somaiya of BJP and CPM’s Lakshman Seth.

Later in the day, the AIMTC delegation met Murli Manohar Joshi, minister for human resource development. Joshi promised to hold discussions with the finance, petroleum and transport ministers.

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