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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
Indian truck strike talks fail

Representatives of the Indian Government and truckers have failed to make any breakthrough in talks to end a four-day transport strike.

A truck worker cooks during a truckers' strike in Ahmadabad, India
Most trucks remain idle

The strike has crippled the country's delivery network, causing sharp increases in food prices, and is beginning to affect other areas of industry.

Nearly three million trucks and buses are off the roads across the country in protest at higher fuel costs and a proposed new tax.

The government wants the strike to be called off while talks continue, but unions have rejected the suggestion.

"We have 10 demands, but the government is unwilling to concede any of those. That's not acceptable to us," said JM Saksena, secretary general of the All India Motor transport Congress.

He told reporters in Delhi on Thursday that no new dates for fresh talks had been set.

Tax protest

We can handle deliveries only for another two to three days
Bombay port secretary Saroj Tahiliani

The truckers are protesting at recent increases in diesel prices, and the national government's plan to impose a uniform value added tax (VAT) system.

They say VAT should not apply to them since they are not traders.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister BC Khanduri said he wanted negotiations to resume, but made clear the government could not accept all the strikers' demands.

Southern and western states have been worst hit by the strike, while the capital, Delhi, has remained relatively unaffected.

"We have no major disagreements and I think there was no need for this strike," Mr Khanduri told reporters.

A day earlier, the government lowered the price of petrol and diesel by a rupee, but the move failed to appease the strikers.

Components hit

Estimates say the strike is costing the government and industry hundreds of millions of dollars a day.

If they don't stop the strike soon enough, I will soon not have any vegetables to buy
Bombay housewife Perviz Engineer

Mr Kanduri denied the strike was causing a shortage of essential commodities, but cargo is beginning to pile up at the ports.

Port officials in Bombay said on Wednesday they could handle deliveries for only another two or three days.

The country's biggest car maker, Maruti Udyog Ltd, a Suzuki subsidiary, said it might temporarily shut down production as the stoppage had hit component supplies.

Rising prices

The cost of food and vegetables is reported to have increased by as much as 50% in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states and in the city of Bombay (Mumbai), India's financial capital.

Labourers pull a cart loaded with onion bags in Madras
Trucks and buses are off the roads

Movement of coal and other goods has also been affected, hitting labourers who earn daily wages.

Perviz Engineer, a Bombay housewife, said many vegetables had already disappeared from her local market.

"The ones that are there are very highly priced. If they don't stop the strike soon enough, I will soon not have any vegetables to buy."

Business, too, has been affected as people find it difficult to ferry their goods across from one place to the other.

Authorities across India have taken steps to ensure that the disruption is minimal.

In the capital, Delhi, arrangements have been made with farmers and dairy owners to bring in milk, vegetables and fruit in small trucks that are not covered by the strike.

The BBC's Sanjeev Srivastava
"An early end to the strike may be difficult"

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