The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mahajan at wheel in truck strike talks

New Delhi/Mumbai, April 21: Striking transporters went into backroom huddles with BJP leaders like Pramod Mahajan even as furrow lines deepened in industry, which began counting its losses with the strike entering its second week.

With the strike entering its second week, the ministry of road transport and highways scheduled a meeting later this week with state governments to discuss the main demands.

The minister for road transport and highways, B.C. Khanduri, is likely to make a statement in Parliament tomorrow.

The Congress attacked the government for its “indifferent attitude” and sought the Prime Minister’s intervention. “We are surprised at the cavalier approach of the government. It has caused immense loss to the economy,” it said.

Last week, Mahajan was appointed by the government to discuss and resolve the issues with the striking truckers.

Estimates of revenue losses as a result of the strike vary depending on who you talk to.

When the strike was confined to Maharashtra, the loss was estimated at Rs 50 crore a day, said Vijay G. Kalantri, president of the All India Association of Industries. “Unfortunately, it has now soared to over Rs 1,500 crore, including revenue loss to exchequer, exports missed and production loss,” he said.

But the first signs of just how serious the strike could be emerged today when Telco, the country’s largest truck- maker, indicated that its manufacturing units could run out of steam in another couple of days if the strike continues. Last week, Maruti Udyog, the largest carmaker, had said it would be forced to halt production.

Most automobile companies are ardent believers in just-in-time manufacturing practices — a management philosophy devised by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota Motor that says produce the right part in the right place at the right time.

The concept has worked well for auto companies abroad and here but disintegrates in the face of a transport strike.

While the Telco spokesperson stopped short of spelling out the hard decisions, he revealed that the company has already curtailed production in several units.

“Our Tata Cummins engines that power our trucks are stuck in Nagpur and car components supplied from Tamil Nadu are also in short supply,” he added.

Bajaj Auto, the country’s largest two- and three-wheeler company, has also been badly hit. R.L. Ravichandran, vice-president, business and product development, said the strike had curtailed despatch of finished products to 25 per cent.

However, he added, the company normally keeps a dealer inventory of 15-20 days.

Cementmakers have also been hit hard. “We are getting clinker ready to ramp up production,” said an official from Gujarat Ambuja.

“Normally, when such a situation arises, we find huge demand for at least a week after the strike is called off as customers rush to procure cement. We are gearing up for that,” an industry official said.

The strike has affected children, too. Their favourite sweets are difficult to find in many shops which have run out of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.

Shyam Gupta, the vice-president of the north zone of the All-India Motor Transport Congress, said: “The government has failed consistently to give us an assurance that our demands will be met. We are suffering just as much as the general public. Since we are not running our vehicles, we are facing losses too. We also have our families to feed. But since the government has refused to accept our demands, we will continue with our strike.”

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