Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Jul 21, 2003
Industry & Economy
Columns - Random Walk
VISITORS to Kerala are well-advised to ask themselves not if, but when, there will be a general strike in the State. Take the case of a person from Chennai known to me. For the past three years or so, she has been coming regularly to get work done at a company in Technopark, billed as Kerala's ideal hi-tech business environment, where you are guaranteed `harmony at work'.
And each time, without fail, some variant of a strike has hampered her journey to and from Technopark, generally adding to the overall costs and hassles of completing her projects. She now regards such impediments as the unavoidable occupational hazard of doing business in God's Own Country, much like workers in an asbestos factory resign themselves to contracting mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer.
Given Kerala's similarly cancerous reputation, seasoned veterans choose to arrive and depart on a Sunday, comfortably secure in the knowledge that taxis, autorickshaws and buses will be available to transport them to their destinations from the airport, railway station or bus stand - for which illiterate fool (of which species there are none in fully literate Kerala) would deign to call for a strike on a Sunday? That mortal luxury - of being able to hail a cab or autorickshaw - will not be available tomorrow, thanks to the State Coordination Committee of Motor Workers Unions, which has called all transport vehicles to remain off the streets of Kerala, as a show of solidarity with the striking truckers who are on strike for a reduction in the hike in motor vehicle tax.
Mr R. Balakrishna Pillai, the State's Transport Minister, who represented the Government at last Friday's fruitless talks with the truck owners and labour unions, says that the contending parties were able to see eye-to-eye on the main issue of the hike in motor vehicles tax, but differed in their interpretation of the Kerala High Court's interim order on how to implement the hike.
Earlier, the National Permit Lorry Owners Association had challenged in the Kerala High Court the 50 per cent hike in vehicle tax imposed by the Government. The Government says it is willing to reduce the hike in taxes on contract and goods carriages once the High Court gives its final verdict. But the lorry operators want the Government to withdraw the hike immediately.
The High Court order said that the owners need only pay 25 per cent in excess of the previous rates this quarter, pending a final decision of the court. The court had also specified that the order would not apply if the strike (then only at the planning stage) was not called off before July 14.
Meanwhile, the All Kerala Federation of Petroleum Traders decided to stop buying petroleum products from Saturday, until the ongoing strike of the lorry owners and workers is settled. The federation has also decided to close down petrol pumps on Tuesday in support of the lorry strike.
Kerala has around 2.75 lakh operators of vehicles such as autorickshaws and taxis, who depend on uninterrupted supply of diesel and petrol for their livelihoods. They are likely to suffer as the strike intensifies. Already, it has affected construction and headload workers, as vehicles transporting construction materials into the State are being attacked at the borders.
In the end, as with all such industrial action, some compromises will be found, a few face-saving measures proposed, a round of meetings held in the Government Secretariat, a photo session for the media organised, and proclamations made by both sides announcing victory.
And the loser? The poor guy who yells "Taxi!" tomorrow.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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