April 20: Hopes of an early end to the indefinite truckers’ strike appeared dim with the transporters today rejecting a fresh appeal by the government to end the strike even as they deferred a planned blockade of milk and cooking gas till Wednesday.
The Centre had offered to consider most of their demands and urged them to call off the strike, which entered the seventh day today.
“We have rejected the call given by the road transport ministry to end the agitation as they first asked us to end the strike before coming to the negotiation table,” secretary-general of the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) J.M. Saksena said.
It is not possible for us to hold talks with the government with pre-conditions attached, he said.
The transport congress and its affiliates struck work calling for immunity from the proposed Value Added Tax regime, an end to frequent hikes in diesel prices, repeal of the ban on 15-year-old trucks and fixing minimum freight rates, among other demands.
Earlier, the Centre agreed to reconsider its orders on overloading, restructure the national permits scheme, computerise driving licenses and registration books and amend the Carriers Act.
“In view of the fact that there is no conflict on most of the demands raised by AIMTC, the minister (B.C. Khanduri) has requested that the strike be called off. This will enable us to have a more meaningful discussion,” a communication from the road transport ministry had said.
Saksena also took the opportunity to deny reports of a split among fellow agitators in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
Confusion, however, reigned in Andhra Pradesh after state transport minister Damodar Reddy announced withdrawal of the strike by the organising associations in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.
Reddy said eight of the truckers’ 10 demands, which are within the state’s purview, were discussed and a compromise thrashed out. Chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, he said, had taken the Centre’s and the PMO’s nod to intervene at the state level.
Office-bearers of the Andhra Pradesh Lorry Owners’ Association, however, denied an end to the strike. “We have conveyed the recommendations of the state government to the all-India body, which alone has the authority to withdraw the strike,” Y.A. Easwar Rao, president, Krishna District Lorry Owners’ Association, said.
Iqbal Hussain, convener, Joint Action Committee of Truckers in the state, contradicted Rao’s statement. He said trucks in the twin cities would ply as usual from tonight as the state had conceded all its demands, except those on diesel price.
The situation was similar in Bhubaneswar where the Orissa Truck Owners’ Association decided to pull out of the indefinite countrywide strike. State transport minister Arabinda Dhali last night met association members, who agreed to end the strike after the government decided to consider many of their demands.