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Truckers across India to strike from midnight

A union leader said the strike is to protest against higher taxes and rising fuel bills even as oil firms are forcing them to buy costlier branded fuel.
Reuters | By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 01, 2008 10:54 PM IST

Millions of truckers will go on strike across the country from Wednesday to protest against higher taxes and rising fuel bills as oil firms force them to buy costlier branded fuel, a union leader said.

The strike is likely to disrupt goods supplies across the country at just the wrong time for India's embattled coalition government.

It is struggling to turn around inflation at its highest in 13 years, while its leftist allies are threatening to withdraw support over a controversial nuclear deal with the United States, raising the prospect of a snap election.

"No meeting is planned with the government and we are going ahead with the strike to save our business," said Charan Singh Lohara, president of the All India Motor Transport Congress, which represents both large and small truck operations.

The strike could slow industrial output and hurt diesel sales.

A similar week-long strike in August 2004 pulled monthly diesel sales down 9.3 per cent from a year earlier, while annual growth in industrial output slowed to 7.9 per cent from 8.4 per cent in the previous month because of disrupted shipments.

Lohara said the majority of the nearly 4 million trucks which would stay off the road were long-distance cargo carriers, consuming between 75 and 80 litres of diesel a day.

He said oil firms have been forcing commercial vehicles to meet half of their fuel consumption through costlier branded diesel for the last ten days.

G.C. Daga, director of marketing at Indian Oil Corp, the country's largest fuel retailer, said sales of the cheaper fuel were still freely available.

"We are selling normal diesel to truckers at our retail outlets on highways, everywhere it is available ... only in cities are we encouraging people to buy branded fuel," he said.

India caps the prices of normal petrol and diesel sold through fuel stations but no such price control exists for branded fuels, which are still far cheaper than if prices were market-determined.

The government raised the retail price of petrol and diesel by about 10 percent early this month but most states cut local taxes to soften the impact on consumers.

"Earlier the price gap (between branded and normal diesel) was 50 paise (1.2 cents) a litre, but now this has gone up to as much as 2.25 Indian rupees (5.1 cents) a litre. To save our business, we will take our vehicles off the roads from tomorrow," Lohara said.

He said union members would also be protesting against hikes in road tolls and transport taxes.

Daga added the price gap between branded and normal fuels had widened after the government cut the excise duty on the latter at the same time as it raised retail fuel prices on June 4.

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