THE vehicle strike in Kerala on January 24, 2018 from dawn to desk organised by Kerala Transport Industry Protection Council comprising CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, STU, Janata Dal Trade Union Centre, TUCI, KTUC and owners associations against abnormal increase in prices of petrol and diesel due to the wrong policies of the Modi government, was total and successful. The workers of auto, taxi, private bus, KSRTC bus, lorry, driving school, automobile workshops, spare parts distributors, etc along with the owners of vehicles participated in the strike. All the democratic forces supported the strike. Fishermen and Church of South India, a major Christian community have voluntarily supported the strike. Due to the strike, all government offices and shops were deserted. In Thiruvananthapuram, the striking workers and owners organised a march to AG’s Office. Elamaram Karim inaugurated the dharna. KK Divakaran addressed the gathering and appreciated the workers and owners for organising strong protest actions against the misrule of the BJP government. Similar protest marches and mass dharnas were organised in all towns throughout Kerala. The call of BMS leadership that their workers will not participate in the strike was disregarded and the workers actively joined the strike and participated in the protest actions.
Likewise, the All India Co-ordination Committee of Road Transport Workers’ Organisations, has organised protest actions including mass dharna and gate meetings against the abnormal increase of prices of petrol and diesel throughout the country. Wrong policies of the union government have led to this price rise which will have a cascading effect and will lead to an increase in the price of all essential commodities. The BJP government had given permission to petroleum companies to increase the price of petrol and diesel daily from July 16, 2017 onwards. The price of diesel is around Rs 70 per litre which is at an all time high as on January 29, 2018. The price of petrol is Rs 77 and the prices are increasing daily and the price is Rs 80.64 in Mumbai. The price of diesel and petrol has increased by 20 and 15 paise daily on an average in the last two weeks .The price of diesel is increased by more than Rs9 in last 6 months. When the BJP led union government came into power, the price of petrol and diesel were Rs 69.15 and 49.57 and nearly Rs 19 has increased for diesel. The crude oil price per barrel was 120 dollars in May 2014 and now it is 70 dollars. The reason for price rise of petrol and diesel is the abnormal increase in cess, tax and excise duty additionally levied by the central government. The state governments are also levying additional tax. Nearly 50 per cent of price is towards tax, cess, excise duty, etc. The new policy will help private oil companies like Reliance and Essar to make huge profits.
The motor transport industry and its workers are in serious crisis due to the wrong policies of the union government. The insurance premium has increased by about 200 per cent. This price rise will increase fare and conveyance charges.
The protest was also against the MV Act (Amendment) Bill 2017 passed in Lok Sabha which affects road transport industry and workers at large. The bill passed aims at privatisation of the core road transport industry to hand over the sector to big corporates. The bill is a new version of RTS Bill 2015 with more additional dangerous clauses. When the entire road transport industry is passing through serious crisis, adding fuel to the crisis, the Government of India has enhanced the registration, fitness, license, renewal etc charges many fold. On implementing the bill, auto rikshaws will be eliminated, the existing taxi services will be disrupted, goods transport sector and private and STU buses will be eliminated. The driving schools, spare parts shops and automobile workshops will be closed. Lakhs of road transport workers will loss employment. State Motor Vehicle Department will be closed.
New registration of vehicles and licence issuing will be done by private agencies. Heavy fines and penalties are proposed for drivers without considering their wages and nothing is mentioned in the bill to protect and safeguard the motor transport workers. The new bill will in turn increase fares and conveyance charges of essential commodities. The proposed bill is anti-worker and anti-people. In Rajya Sabha, the bill was opposed by Left Parties and some other opposition parties including Congress party and a select committee was appointed to hear the objections. The government is planning to place the bill in Rajya Sabha in this session without considering the objections raised by some state governments like Kerala, Tamil Nadu etc and some trade unions/federations including the All India Road Transport Workers Federation.
The government claims that 80 per cent of accidents are occurring due to human errors. It is not true and the government had not discussed with the trade unions. The state transport corporations have recorded lowest accident rates in the country. In such a situation, the road transport corporations (RTCs) should be strengthened and expanded. But contrary to this, to weaken and dismantle the RTCs, the government has proposed amendments to MV Act 1988 to allow the operator to operate the vehicle at his discretion, to promote competition, private participation and PPP. The present Act giving protection to STUs is completely deleted in the new bill. The constitutional protection is violated. As of now the private travel operators are getting the contract carriage permit and operating as stage carriage against the permit. There is no provision for “aggregator” in the existing MV Act 1988. Even then, corporate companies – Uber and Ola – have already entered the market by giving false assurances to the passengers and to the drivers. After the entry of these companies the income of single auto/taxi/owner cum drivers has come down drastically and they are suffering a lot for their survival. In India, in both the passenger and goods transport, owners having one or two vehicles comprise almost 80 per cent. With the proposed amendment, all these petty owners will lose their bread and butter.