Hyderabad: Factory production came to a halt in Telangana on Monday as activists campaigning for the region’s separation from Andhra Pradesh pursued a two-week-old general strike to stir the state and Union governments out of political inaction that has already taken a heavy toll on the state’s economy and plunged it into a governance crisis.
Around 10,000 small and medium production units in the region’s 10 districts shut and some 500,000 workers walked off the job at the start of the two-day industrial action, said M. Kodandaram, convener of the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC), an umbrella body of pro-statehood organizations.
Small and medium enterprises all over Hyderabad were shut, said M.V. Rajeshwara Rao, secretary general of the Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
“Today’s bandh (strike) has greater ramifications as we go along,” he said. “It has strong long-term implications. Getting orders from outside the state would be a major issue.”
The general strike—the longest since the Telangana campaign escalated at the end of 2009—has seen the participation of junior government employees, teachers and students, road transport workers, doctors and lawyers, electricity board employees and sanitation workers, causing a combined economic loss estimated at over Rs 3,500 crore, according to a Hyderabad-based think tank.
Public buses have been off the roads since 13 September and railway traffic was halted by a train stoppage protest on Saturday and Sunday.
Even barbers across the region shut shop on Saturday.
Production stopped at factories of state-run companies including munitions and missile systems maker Bharat Dynamics Ltd, power equipment manufacturer Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltdand Electronics Corp. of India Ltd, which makes products ranging from electronic voting machines to control and instrumentation products for nuclear power plants. Some 45,000 employees at public sector companies stopped work, Kodandaram said.
Blue-collar workers at pharma companies also stayed away from work, hurting production that has already been affected by deficient fuel supply, an industry spokesman said.
The information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services industry wasn’t affected, but cost of operations has risen because it has had to hire more cabs and buses to ferry employees who would otherwise have commuted by public transport, said L. Suresh, president of an industry body known as ITsAP.
“Companies are getting worried; it has been going on for too long,” said Suresh.
“Something quick has to be done by the Central government to resolve this issue.”
Manufacturers of active pharmaceutical ingredients that go into medication have so far lost Rs.500 crore because of the strike, said M. Narayana Reddy, managing director of Virchow Laboratories Ltdand a former president and executive committee member of industry lobby group Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association (India). The bulk drug industry generated exports worth Rs 15,000 crore from Andhra Pradesh in the last fiscal.
“There is a severe shortage of coal. We ran out of whatever stocks we have; at least temporarily, we decided to shut down the operations,” Narayana Reddy said. “Though the senior- and middle-level employees are showing up for work, the problem for us is the absence of blue-collar workers, who are unable to attend (to) their duties due to a complete shutdown of public transport in the city.”
Workers of Singareni Collieries Co. Ltd, the largest employer in the region with a workforce of 100,000, have boycotted work since 13 September, the day the strike took hold, stopping coal production at mines spread across four districts, disrupting fuel supplies to power plants, and forcing the state government to ration electricity supply.
Kodandaram estimated the government revenue loss resulting from the two-day industrial action at Rs 100 crore. The loss to businesses is about 10 times as much, he said.
T.S. Appa Rao, principal secretary to the state government and commissioner for industrial promotion, said the general strike hadn’t affected industrial production until Saturday, and updates on the impact of Monday’s walkout by factory workers were awaited.
Kodandaram ruled out prospects of the strike being called off.
“Having come this far, we can’t go back; it is for the state and Central governments to react.” said the TJAC convener, a professor of political science at Osmania University. “The available institutional mechanisms have failed; there is no options left for us, at least at this point of time, but to continue (with the strike).”
The Congress-led Central government has so far adopted a hands-off approach to the strike. Chief minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddyhas appealed to the organizers to keep the people’s interests in mind and call off the strike.
According to the Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS), a Hyderabad-based think tank, Andhra Pradesh’s gross state domestic product suffered a loss to the tune of Rs 3,564 crore in the first 12 days of the general strike.
“My take is that it is not the Telangana agitation alone, but also the non-resolution of uncertainty that affects investor confidence,” said Krishnamurthy Subramanian, an assistant professor at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad.
The Telangana agitation, and the resulting uncertainty, has hurt the economy, and the longer it persists, the worse it will become, added Subramanian.
Yogendra Kalavalapalli and Viswanath Pilla contributed to this story.