New Delhi: A strike by officers of public sector oil companies was called off on its third day on Friday, but not before it caused widespread discomfort to commuters and companies, even as the truckers’ strike continued for the fifth day.
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“The strike has been called off and the services will be normalized shortly,” union petroleum minister Murli Deora said.
Meanwhile, a separate strike called by All India Motor Transport Congress entered its fifth day with the association saying it would continue with its protest despite the arrest of its president Charan Singh Lohara and secretary S. Venugopal.
The truckers strike has not only created a shortage of perishable goods such as milk, fruits and vegetables, making them costlier, but has also become a matter of concern for distributors of consumer goods who are finding it tough to replenish stocks.
Earlier on Friday, the government upped the ante against striking oil workers by firing 70 officials. While Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd terminated the services of 64 officers, Indian Oil Corp. Ltd (IOC) and GAIL (India) Ltd sacked three employees each.
While Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd officers did not join the strike, the employees of IOC and GAIL, Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd and Oil India Ltd called off the strike late evening on Friday.
With petrol pumps across the country running dry because of the strike, panic and frustration among the public was palpable. For a government due to face general elections before May, the situation was threatening into a political liability.
Ordeal over: Besides severely affecting vehicle owners, the fuel strike had crippled operations at power, fertilizer, steel and aviation companies. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
The central committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, condemned the “repressive measures unleashed by the government” on officers of 14 state-owned oil companies in the country who had been on strike.
Denying that the fallout would hurt the ruling United Progressive Alliance politically, Deora was noncommittal on the status of the officers dismissed from service. “It’s not possible for me to comment on this,” he said.
Executives at government-owned electricity generator NTPC Ltd, who had planned to join the oil officers’ stir on Friday evening, deferred their agitation for the time being, as “no communication could be established with hiding members of Oil Sector Officers Association.”
“The situation could have been managed much better, however, there was no will to resolve the strike early,” a top executive at one of the oil firms said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The trucker’s strike, however, continued, resulting in an increase in the price of some products.
“Loose sugar has already become costlier by one rupee. We are selling it for Rs22 from the last two days. Even prices of fruit and vegetables have gone up and likely to become dearer if the strike continues,” said Rajat Arora, a retailer based in Noida on the outskirts of Delhi.
“Stock is out for the fastest moving items such as Lifebouy soap. The situation might get worse if the strike does not end,” said Lalit Kumar, owner Sant Singh Ramlal, a distributor of consumer goods firm Hindustan Unilever Ltd that caters to 1,000 retailers in Delhi.
Similarly, Suresh Mhtere, president of the Pimpri Chinchwad Small Scale Industries Association, a trade body of over 7,000 small ancillary units that supply components to the large auto industries’ hub around Pune and Chakan, said supply of sheet metal and other raw material from Mumbai has dried up.
Vijaya Rathore, Romita Datta, Ajay Sukumaran, Sudha Menon, Vidhya Sivaramakrishnan of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.
Video by Nidhi Bhardwaj