Hundreds and thousands of trucks kept off the roads across the country on Monday beginning a two-day strike to protest against the GST and calling for an end to daily revision of fuel prices. The strike sparked price rise due to an imminent disruption in supplies of essential commodities ahead of Diwali.
The decision to strike, which began at 8 a.m., came after last minute negotiations between the government and the transporters failed to resolve the logjam over their demands, Harish Sabharwal, Additional Vice President (North) of the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), said.
“We are going on a nationwide chakka jam today (Monday) and tomorrow (Tuesday). Negotiations with the government did not yield any results as they did not agree to our demands. The truckers will suffer a loss of Rs 2,000 crore. We are compelled to suffer this loss,” said Sabharwal, also a member in the Road Safety Council of the Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways.
AIMTC is the top body of transporters in India and represents around 93 lakh truckers and around 50 lakhs bus and tourist operators across India.
Truck operators claim they were suffering because GST-related rules had created confusion because of the existence of Reverse Charge Mechanism (RCM) and Forward Charge Mechanism (FCM) in the new tax system.
The AIMTC said in a statement that the indirect tax regime had led to forced registration and unnecessary compliance by transporters and this needed to be done away with. Transporters are also miffed that sale of used assets attract double taxation under the GST and want this provision scrapped.
It said the double taxation – 28 per cent Goods and Services Tax while buying and selling trucks – was killing the truckers.
The transporters also said they were not able to lift goods from unregistered traders because it would mean that they would have to pay tax on behalf of the unregistered business under RCM.
Among many other issues related to GST, the transporters are also protesting the rise in diesel prices and the fuel being kept out of the new tax system. They demand that taxes on diesel should be rationalised in accordance with international markets and on the basis of crude oil prices.
The strike has hit supplies across India, including of food.
Around 500,000 trucks went off roads in Tamil Nadu.
“The trucks are participating in the two-day token strike. The business loss in the state will be around Rs 5,000 crore, while at the national level it will be nearly 10 times that figure,” AIMTC Vice President-South Zone, P.V. Subramani, told IANS.
The strike halted goods movement across Karnataka as all trucks in the state have stopped plying, AIMTC south zone General Secretary G.R. Shanmugappa told IANS.
“About four lakh trucks are at standstill across the state as about 90 associations affiliated to our all-India apex body (AIMTC) in Karnataka are participating in the strike in support of our major demands,” said Shanmugappa.
About a million people, including drivers, cleaners, porters and their support staff were also participating in the two-day strike.
Accusing the Centre and state governments of being indifferent to the road transport sector, AIMTC General Secretary Naveen Kumar Gupta said among other problems, daily payment at toll gates within and across the states had turned into a nightmare due to long queues, wastage of fuel and traffic pile ups at their entry and exit points.
“We are not against toll collection if its objective is to mobilise funds for maintaining state roads and national highways. As the electronic toll collection (ETC) has not been viable or used in all states, the government should find an alternative mechanism to collect the toll without holding our trucks for long,” said Gupta.
Truckers also went on strike in Himachal Pradesh.
Truckers’ association spokesperson Ram Kishan Sharma told IANS that over 1,200 truckers were on strike, refusing to lift for transportation cement and clinker of Ambuja Cement from its two units at Darlaghat in Solan district.
An official of Ambuja Cement said the strike has affected normal production at the two units.
Likewise, the production of Jaypee Himachal Cement, a subsidiary of diversified group Jaiprakash Associates, located in Solan district, was also hit.