Millions of Indian truckers went on strike on Wednesday, parking up their vehicles to protest high taxes and rising fuel bills, union leaders said, but talks to discuss ways to end the stoppage were planned.
Trucks provide the transport lifeline of India's economy and a lengthy strike would threaten not only goods supplies but also industrial output. Diesel sales could drop sharply.
"About 4.5 million trucks are off the road as part of our indefinite strike. Transportation of all goods, including essential items has been stopped," said S.K. Sharma, an adviser to the All India Motor Transport Congress.
"We have to wait and watch for the government's response."
Any prolonged action will add to the woes of India's coalition government, which is already battling inflation soaring at a 13-year high. Also, its communist allies are threatening to withdraw support over a nuclear deal with the United States, raising the prospect of a snap election.
Charan Singh Lohara, president of the truckers' congress, which represents both large and small operations, said he would meet transport ministry officials on Wednesday.
A similar week-long strike in August 2004 pulled monthly diesel sales down 9.3 percent from a year earlier and hurt annual growth in industrial output because of disrupted shipments.
Lohara said earlier most of the four million trucks he expected to stay off the roads were long-distance cargo carriers, consuming between 75 and 80 litres of diesel a day.
He told Reuters on Tuesday that fuel retailers had been forcing commercial vehicles to meet half of their fuel consumption through costlier branded diesel for the last ten days.
A senior official at leading retailer Indian Oil Corp said the cheaper diesel was still available at highway outlets but customers were being "encouraged" to buy branded fuel in cities.
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 much cheaper than if prices were market-determined.
The Indian government, which heavily subsidises fuel prices to protect the poor, raised the retail price of petrol and diesel by about 10 percent this month to partly pass on the soaring cost of crude oil.
But many of the country's states cut local taxes to soften the impact on consumers.
Last Mod: 02 Temmuz 2008, 14:20