Transporters Jam Wheels, Masses Suffer27 December 2010
Srinagar: Tens of thousands of commuters across Jammu and Kashmir suffered severe hardships on Monday as transporters went on a one-day strike against the government’s move to hike passenger tax and enforce strict traffic laws. The passenger transport industry in the state, monopolized by private operators, had been celebrating a surreptitiously granted hefty raise in fares, but was pulled up short as the government called for its pound of flesh in hiked taxes. The industry today threatened an indefinite strike if the government failed to concede its demand of revoking the tax hike and stringent laws by January 10. Thousands of buses, Sumo taxis and three wheelers remained stubbornly parked in terminals and stands as the strike got underway, and the odd auto-driver seen plying his trade got a severe thrashing by the strikers. Though the government thrust its SRTC fleet into the breach, the drastically depleted reserves of the state corporation were woefully inadequate to meet the massive commuter traffic in Kashmir which is almost totally managed by private operators. The strike had a severe impact on everyday business in the valley as employees found no means to reach their offices, patients struggled to get to hospital, and inter-district routes witnessed thousands of passengers waiting for transport that never came. Later in the day, the All Kashmir Transporters’ Welfare Association claimed that its strike, which had been fully supported in the Jammu region also, was 100 percent successful. The Association said that the sector had been the hardest hit by the five months of unrest in the valley, and that the government’s move to hike taxes in this scenario was unjustified. “The government is already charging 13.5 per cent sales tax and 12. 5 per cent diesel levy from transporters when the rates in neighbouring states do not exceed 8-8 per cent,” the Association said at a press conference here. “Aware of the situation in the valley for the past three years, the government has still slapped interest on taxes and charged heavy fines,” it said. “Taxes for 52-seaters have been hiked from Rs 10,400 to Rs 15,600, for minibuses from Rs 600to Rs 2000, for taxis from Rs 500 to Rs 200, and for autos from Rs 120 to Rs300,” it said, asking for a repeal in the hike. Association head, Sheikh Muhammad Yousuf, also demanded the repeal of the order issued recently by the traffic police about booking the driver, the conductor and the owner of a bus under sections 304 and 307 of the RPC in case of an accident in addition to cases under the relevant sections of the motor vehicles act. “These stringent laws are the beginning of the ruin of the transport industry and must be withdrawn,” he said, asking for the personal intervention of the chief minister to save the “dying” sector.