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80 shutdowns in 18 months

Kerala witnesses another shutdown despite the state government assuring that normal life would not be disrupted during the Congress-led hartal, reports Ramesh Babu.
By Ramesh Babu | Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
UPDATED ON FEB 20, 2008 02:53 AM IST

The smart tour operators of Kerala have in the past tried to market noisy elections and hartals to foreign tourists but now the state’s thriving hospitality industry is feeling the pinch of recurring shutdowns.

The state on Tuesday witnessed another shutdown, the 80th (eight statewide and 72 regional ones) in the 18 months despite the state government assuring the high court that normal life would not be disrupted during the Congress-led hartal to protest against the policies of the Left Democratic Front Government.

The Kerala High Court was the first to ban bandhs (forced shutdowns) in 1999 but wily politicians took to hartals or ‘voluntary shutdowns’ to enforce their will. Hartals turn bandhs in no time, as was witnessed on Tuesday. Several vehicles and shops were stoned, forcing traders and vehicle owners to stay home.

In Kerala, political parties and lesser known outfits just need a minor reason and they compete among themselves to call shutdowns, unmindful of their impact on the economy. The state loses at least Rs 700 crore a day through loss of production, leave aside the damages caused by violence during every hartal.

“If the state doesn’t adopt an alternative mode of protest, it will suffer badly in the days to come,” warned Kerala CII president Nawaz Meeran.

Apart from the drain on the economy, hartals inflict miseries on tourists who flock to unwind themselves in ‘God’s Own Country’. In 2006, 4.25 lakh foreign and 40 lakh domestic tourists visited the state, registering a growth rate of 21 per cent.

“It is high time to exclude tourism from hartals. All political parties should sit up and think seriously,” Kerala Tourism Development Corporation chairman Cherian Philip said.

The sheer frequency of shutdowns prompted some traders in Alappuzha to ignore random calls. But on Tuesday these traders were targeted first, forcing them to call another hartal the next day.

But all aren’t succumbing to hartal protagonists so easily. In northern Kozhikode, members of a youth outfit, Hunters Club, were seen ferrying stranded passengers in style. Several such groups are mushrooming in the state, raising a toast to the hospitality industry.

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