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Surrender day: truckers win

New Delhi, April 23: Transporters today called off their 10-day-old nationwide strike after the government capitulated and accepted nine of their 10 demands, including an early cut in diesel prices and protection from the rigours of the new value added tax (VAT) regime.

The spat over high diesel prices was the combustible issue at the core of the strike that paralysed industry, forcing automakers, cement companies and even chocolate makers to pare production. Industry is reported to have suffered a loss of about Rs 200 crore a day since the strike began.

Under the agreement the government reached with the striking transporters, oil companies will advance their fortnightly meeting to consider a reduction in diesel and petrol prices in view of the $11 fall in global crude prices since the end of the Iraq war.

The oil companies are scheduled to meet on April 30 but petroleum minister Ram Naik will advise them to meet sooner. The oil companies will also be advised to examine whether the periodicity of their meetings — once every fortnight — can be revised. They will also be told to consider the views of the All India Motor Transport Congress, which spearheaded the strike, while revising petroleum prices.

The only issue on which there was no agreement was the contentious demand to scrap the toll tax vehicles pay to use the newly-built national highways.

Minister of state for road transport and highways B.C. Khanduri said a committee would be set up to examine the amount of toll to be charged from various types of transport vehicles.

The committee will comprise two representatives of transporters and the rest will be from the government.

Emerging after four hours of negotiations with Khanduri and Ram Naik, the truckers’ union president, B.N. Dhumal, said: “The strike should have ended four days ago when the government accepted seven out of our 10 demands. Today, we decided to call off the strike after Ram Naik agreed to a cut in diesel prices.”

The other contentious issue was the imposition of excise duty of Rs 10,000 on truck chassis, which will now be lobbed to the finance ministry. The duty was imposed in this year’s budget and the finance Bill giving effect to the provisions is due to be passed in Parliament shortly.

However, some double-talk continued even after the agreement was reached. The transporters said age would not be the deciding factor for taking old and fume-belching vehicles off the road. The Motor Vehicles Act had proposed that 15-year-old heavy vehicles should be phased out. Transporters said the norm would not be enforced as long as the vehicles fulfilled emission norms, fitness and road safety related regulations.

Khanduri, however, said no decision had been taken to scrap the condition.

“Till the time the vehicle meets our emission and fitness norms, it can ply,” he said, adding that states where courts have imposed age restrictions were free to go on appeal.

All truckers arrested in connection with the strike would be released.

The government assured the transporters that insurance companies would not be allowed to levy excess premia. Transporters have accused the companies of raising premium by over 200 per cent over the past year.

The government said it would direct the insurance regulator — Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority — to discipline those companies that were overloading the premium.

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