Indian opposition parties call strike over fuel prices


BBC News | Monday, 5 July 2010 | 08:42 GMT

Normal life has been disrupted in many parts of India because of a strike called by opposition parties against fuel price rises. The effect of the 12-hour stoppage is being felt most in states where opposition parties are in power. Transport has been hit and businesses and schools are shut in the financial capital Mumbai, Calcutta and Bangalore. The government expects the increase in fuel prices to add nearly 1% to an inflation rate already over 10%. Millions of Indians will be affected, the opposition says. The government announced fuel prices rise last month in an attempt to cut the budget deficit.

‘Prices sky-rocketed’

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies and India’s Communist parties issued separate strike calls against the rise in fuel prices. The states of West Bengal and Kerala – which have left-wing governments – and Bihar are worst affected with roads in many areas deserted. There are also reports of major disruption in the cities of Bangalore and Mumbai (Bombay). A large number of flights have been cancelled, train services affected and schools and businesses shut in these and other parts of India. More than half a million lorries are off the roads after the main truckers’ union said it was supporting the strike. The major info-tech hub of Bangalore in southern Karnataka state has shut down because of the strike, says a correspondent.

In Mumbai, in the west of the country, taxis and auto rickshaws stayed off the roads, although the city’s suburban train network was running. Many commuters preferred to stay at home fearing they would be stranded on their way to work. One domestic help in the city, Chandra Bai, said the strike did not help the people. "On one hand, all 

prices have sky-rocketed. On the other hand, they call a strike and trouble us even more. Where is the relief for us?" she asked Reuters news agency. The capital, Delhi, which is run by India’s governing Congress Party, is relatively calm although there have been some street protests and blockades.

‘Insensitive’

Senior BJP leader LK Advani has asked the people to make the strike a success to highlight the "insensitivity of the government". The fuel price rise followed the government’s decision last month to scrap its subsidy of petrol prices in an effort to cut its budget deficit. India’s fiscal deficit is forecast to hit 5.5% of GDP by 2010-11. Allowing the price of petrol to be decided by the market has added about 3.5 rupees (£0.05; $0.08) to the price of a litre of petrol, a rise of 6.7%. Diesel prices will be increased by 5% or 2 rupees a litre, although not immediately. And kerosene, which is used for cooking by tens of millions of poor Indians, went up by 33% (3 rupees per litre) in the first such increase since 2002. The government has ruled out reversing its decision.

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