The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Standstill tug at purse strings
- Price spurt spectre as truck strike trips supply

With the truckers still at a standstill at the roadblock reading ‘10 per cent service tax’ (announced in Budget 2004-05), the supply line of goods in various categories is slowly, but surely, drying up.

And as the nationwide strike completes four days, the city markets — from new-generation shopper stops to sabzi mandis — are bracing for bad times.

“We just had our end-of-season sale and were expecting new stocks. But the consignment is now stuck in transit,” complained R.S. Rekhi, head of operations (east), Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd.

Though the company running two popular outlets on Camac Street and at Gariahat has elaborate supply-chain arrangements, the stocks will not last more than three to four days.

“We are trying to fight the situation with supplies from our local distributors, but the situation will spin out of control if the strike continues any further, as we will see the domino effect then,” admitted Rekhi.

The same holds true for the retail market of computer components. Arun Jalan of Jalan Infotech pointed out that though the small components are entering the city market through air cargo, the bulk supplies of monitors, motherboards and keyboards have stopped.

“Though a price rise is not that common in our industry, there will be some pressure on prices if demand outstrips supply,” he warned.

While competitive pressures will keep prices in the organised sectors under control, the consumption basket will become dearer, as the price of food items is poised to spiral in a market already reeling under inflationary pressures.

“We are aware of the hardships of the people and so we are not obstructing the movement of essential items, but we were forced into this situation by the government,” claimed K.K. Bansal, city spokesperson for the All India Motor Transport Congress.

Bansal, on behalf of the umbrella organisation of truckers unions that has called the strike, said only 1,500 to 2,000 trucks could enter Bengal on Monday, in comparison to the normal daily average of around 35,000 to 40,000.

Far removed from the tug-of-war at the talks table in Delhi, the prices of vegetables in most city markets have crept up in the past three to four days.

“We depend on other states for tomato, cauliflower, cabbage and capsicum. The truck strike has dried up the supplies and prices are on the rise. The extent of hike is in the range of Re 1 to Rs 2 a kg till now, but if the trucks don’t arrive on Wednesday, we fear the prices will go up further,” said Mahindra Kumar Tater of West Bengal Vegetable Traders. The prices of potato and onion are also on the rise.

To keep things under control, the state government has instructed the district administration to check artificial hiking of prices.

“We are gathering information through the district and central enforcement branches and the reports suggest that prices haven’t appreciated remarkably,” said Chayan Mukherjee, inspector-general, law and order.

Mukherjee, however, added that there were reports of demand outstripping supply in case of vegetables in pockets of North and South 24-Parganas and Howrah. He also admitted to rising trends in the price of fish and egg due to dependence on supplies from Andhra Pradesh.

Representatives from trade bodies met food department officials on Tuesday. “We briefed them about the situation. Though some trucks are coming in, it will be difficult to contain prices if this continues,” said Biswanath Agarwal of Posta Bazar Merchants' Association.

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