Traders took the agitation against local body tax (LBT) a notch higher on Thursday by coming out on city roads and disrupting traffic at peak hours in south Mumbai.
Protesters, who occupied the roads opposite to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), paralysed traffic in the area, from noon to 3pm. After exercising maximum restraint for three hours, when the police was still unable to control the crowd, they were forced to lathi charge protesters to ease the traffic.
However, the police claimed that they used minimum force to disperse the protesters. “It was an illegal protest and innocent citizens were being inconvenienced,” said Ravindra Shisave, deputy commissioner of police.
The protest also saw workers and leaders from rivals parties—Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Samajwadi Party (SP)—join traders in their Jail Bharo Andolan. BJP leader Gopinath Munde, while addressing traders, warned the government against a crack down on traders. “If even one trader is harmed, we will not allow a single minister to move across the state,” said Munde.
SP leader Abu Azmi, who blamed the state government for hurting the common man, said, “We are opposed to LBT as it will result in a price rise.
Both leaders, along with members of Federation of Association of Merchants, courted arrest at the Azad Maidan Police station. Although they were detained, they were released after some time.
FAM, which is spearheading the protest, defended traders. “Even we did not want to harass citizens, the adamancy of the government to withdraw LBT forced us to act the way we did,” said Mohan Gurnani, president, FAM.
However, motorists were angered by the protests that caused delays in their schedules.
“What did they gain by disrupting traffic apart from inconveniencing us,” said Ravindra Pandey, who was on his way to Nariman Point, but got stuck at Byculla for two hours because of the melee.
Another commuter Nidhi Savla said “If traders have grievances, they should target ministers instead of common people.”