Nation loses Rs 13,000 crore; Opposition still to continue stir | india | Hindustan Times
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Nation loses Rs 13,000 crore; Opposition still to continue stir

india Updated: Jul 05, 2010 22:07 IST

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With more than 250 trains cancelled or disrupted, 100 flights cancelled and millions of people inconvenienced, the Bharat Bandh called by opposition parties on Monday against the rise in fuel prices cost the nation Rs 13,000 crore.

"The bandh is estimated to have cost the nation close to Rs 13,000 crore in terms of GDP loss," industry chamber Ficci said in a statement. Another industry body Assocham put the losses at Rs 10,000 crore, while CII pegged it at Rs 3,000 crore.

The dawn to dusk all-India strike, the first such challenge for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government, called separately by the Left and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cost about Rs 10,000 crore, said the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham).

Wholesale commodity markets remained shut in most of the cities, while several flights from key airports like Mumbai were cancelled. According to the All-India Motor Transport Congress, 6 lakh vehicles were off the road.

Though the screen-based stock market remained open, the trading volume at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) was down 52 per cent to Rs 2,857 crore against a daily average of nearly Rs 6,000 crore.

Buoyed by the strike's success, both the Left and BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) vowed that this was not the end.

Describing the nationwide shutdown as an "unprecedented success", the Left threatened to intensify its protests inside and outside parliament if the government did not roll back the hike.

"The unity achieved on the street is the real unity... The fight against the government will continue," said a triumphant Janata Dal-United chief Sharad Yadav at press conference with his BJP counterpart Nitin Gadkari.

With the exception of a few states, life was impacted in most parts of India with trucks and buses off the roads, educational establishments and businesses closed. Malls, shopping complexes and government and private offices also stayed shut.

The strike, sponsored by both ends of the political spectrum, the Left and the BJP, was peaceful in many places. But there was sporadic violence too, with 200 buses burnt in Maharashtra.

Opposition leaders, including BJP's Gadkari, Arun Jaitley, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Rajnath Singh, joined their workers in courting arrest in several places. Left leaders Brinda Karat and D Raja also did the same in New Delhi.

The shutdown was total in states ruled by the NDA parties and the Left.

In BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, for instance, life ground to a virtual halt as party workers tried to enforce the strike. Ditto with Bihar, ruled by the Janata Dal-United.

The situation was similar in West Bengal and Kerala, ruled by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), where normal life came to a virtual standstill.

The response was tepid in Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Haryana.

In Congress-ruled Delhi, however, opposition workers forced the strike on buses and shops during the protests following the central government's move to end curbs on petroleum pricing and hike fuel costs in order to tame the huge fiscal deficit.

The decision increased the price of diesel by Rs 2 a litre, kerosene by Rs 3 a litre, petrol by Rs 3.50 a litre, and cooking gas by Rs 35 per cylinder.

Rail operations in the country, especially in the east, were severely affected with 73 trains cancelled and 192 disrupted.

For passengers who chose to fly to their destinations, it was not much easier with at least 96 flights being cancelled, in many cases because passengers just couldn't make it to the airport.

Banking services were completely paralysed in Left governed West Bengal and Kerala while some disruptions were noticed in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Mumbai.

The industry leaders including Rahul Bajaj and Adi Godrej have opposed the bandh and termed the protest as "odd and absurd".

In Mumbai, the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA), one of the busiest, wore a near-deserted look as taxis and autorickshaws remained off the roads.

If the country's financial capital was hit, so was the national capital, also ruled by the Congress where opposition leaders courted arrest at various places and activists forced shopkeepers to down shutters and deflated tyres of buses.

Huge traffic snarls, blockades and protests caused chaos even though most major markets were closed as were schools and colleges.

Said Kanika Sharma, a frustrated banker who had a tough time getting to work: "It was chaotic. I got an autorickshaw after a long wait and had to pay double the fare to convince the driver to drop me at my office."

Her frustration found echo in the southern city of Hyderabad.

"Bandhs will not help people. It only adds to the problems. The government is not going to roll back the hike, so why should opposition parties call for a strike and inconvenience people?" asked medical technician K Rama Rao.

CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat, however, felt that "the momentum of this strike" had to be carried forward.

Though Left leaders said their protest was separate from the NDA's, the sentiment was the same.

"We will keep fighting. It is the people's struggle and it is the people who ultimately triumph," agreed Gadkari.

The ruling Congress labelled the strike as against public interest.

"It is actually an anti-public interest step masquerading as public interest activity," Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Sanghvi said, and he questioned the Left and BJP's strategy.