The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The wheel, ever since it was first invented by an unknown genius, has been crucial to human civilization. The crucial role wheels play become evident only when they are conspicuous by their absence. India is experiencing this because truckers have decided to go on an indefinite strike. Goods are therefore not moving from place to place with the ease and speed that they normally do. Supply lines are running dry and the normal effects of excess demand are already visible. The price of essential commodities is on the rise. In West Bengal, the prices of fish, eggs and onions are the worst hit as all these items come into the state on trucks. Ironically, the price of fruit has dropped to a new low, because traders are unable to hold on to their wares in the heat. Hoarding by traders of other goods has reared its ugly head despite assurances from the government that markets are being watched to prevent hoarding. Truckers are indifferent to all this; the adverse impact of the strike on the nationís economy has also left the strikers unmoved. One calculation says that a loss of Rs 20 thousand crore per day is being registered because of the truckersí strike.

Truckers have their own demands and grievances and some of these may even be valid. But the more important point is that by this strike a small sectoral interest is holding the majority of the population to ransom. This is true of most strikes even when they are camouflaged by the advocacy of the noblest of causes. But it is more true of the truck strike since the vehicles are crucial in the movement of essential goods. The men who run them cannot remain immune to the suffering that the strike is causing to the people and the hostility that is being generated against the strike. The government, in order to silence criticism that it has not taken any initiative to bring about an end to the strike, has taken to publishing long public notices about the demands of the All India Motor Transport Congress and the governmentís stand on each. Tortuous negotiations seem to be heading towards some kind of resolution. There are now a number of concessions by the government, including a repeal of the order on the scrapping of 15 year old vehicles, and a removal of the transportersí sector from value added tax. The sooner the truckersí strike is resolved the better. Although some groups in a few states are reported to be willing to end the strike, no clear picture has emerged as yet. But the government should not buckle under pressure and make concessions on principles of economic reforms. Even if the wheels of trucks lie still, reforms should not be allowed to roll back.

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