New Delhi / Mumbai: Bank, air and train services were disrupted in some parts of the country as trade unions called a nationwide strike to protest issues ranging from rising prices to the sale of stakes in state-owned companies.
The strike was called by unions mostly affiliated to the Communist parties that withdrew support in July to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government over a nuclear accord with the US.
Protestors day: Activists block the highway in Malda, West Bengal, during the nationwide strike called by trade unions on Wednesday. Photograph: PTI
This was the third nationwide strike faced by Singh’s government since coming to power in May 2004.
The industrial action was effective in the Communist-ruled states of West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala, while the capital, New Delhi, and the nation’s commercial hub, Mumbai, weren’t disrupted. “West Bengal has come to almost a standstill, the response is overwhelming,” said M.K. Pandhe, president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. Bank, insurance, railway, telecommunications and airport services have been affected, he said.
Singh’s Congress party-led coalition is seeking to push through economic reforms in the remaining months of its tenure and combat 16-year high inflation as it seeks to shore up electoral support after winning a confidence vote last month. The coalition faces six assembly elections this year, with the general election due by May 2009.
Inflation rose to 12.44% in the week to 2 August.
Trade union leaders had said as many as eight million workers would join the strike, threatening the disruption of banks, airports and telecommunications, including the country’s biggest state-owned telephone company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL).
Bank employees are protesting against moves to give a greater say to overseas investors in lenders and insurers. Most bank employees have joined the strike in eastern India “as there are so many issues that affect them,” said S. Nagarajan, a general secretary at the All India Banks’ Officers Association in Mumbai.
Jet Airways (India) Ltd, the nation’s biggest domestic carrier, cancelled as many as 23 flights to and from Kolkata on Wednesday because of the strike, spokeswoman Srirupa Sen said. Jet’s low-cost affiliate Jet Lite (India) Ltd cancelled 16 flights Flights to other cities were not affected, she said. Kingfisher Airlines Ltd and its affiliate Deccan Aviation Ltd cancelled at least 15 flights to and from Kolkata because of the strike, Prakash Mirpuri, a spokesman of the carriers, said in an email.
At least five long-distance trains were cancelled and six trains halted in the South Eastern Railway zone on Wednesday morning because of agitations and blocked lines, S. Majumdar, a spokesman for Indian Railways, said.
The demands of the seven trade unions and federations of government employees include the containment of inflation, strict implementation of labour protection laws, social security legislation for unorganized labour and the extension of the farm loan waiver programme.