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Bharat bandh: Nation grinds to halt over prices, $2.8 bn losses incurred

A day-long general strike disrupted business activities across India, affecting key sectors of the economy and causing huge losses.



Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: A day-long general strike disrupted normal business activities across India, affecting key sectors of the economy and causing losses anywhere between a conservative Rs.3,000 crore (USD666 million) and a humoungous Rs.13,000 crore (USD2.8 billion) to the country.

While Mumbai, the financial capital of the country, and several industrialised states including Maharashtra, Gujarat, were affected, the impact was partial in many other states like Tamil Nadu and in the national capital Delhi.

The 12-hour strike was called by the Opposition parties to protest the fuel price hike and rising inflation. The dawn to dusk all-India strike, the first such challenge for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s government, called separately by the Left and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cost about Rs.10,000 crore, said the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham).

Buoyed by the strike`s success, both the Left and BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) vowed that this was not the end.

"The bandh is estimated to have cost the nation close to Rs 13,000 crore in terms of GDP loss," industry chamber Ficci said in a statement. Another industry body Assocham put the losses at Rs 10,000 crore, while CII pegged it at Rs 3,000 crore.

Wholesale commodity markets remained shut in most of the cities, while several flights from key airports like Mumbai were cancelled. According to the All-India Motor Transport Congress(AIMTC), six lakh vehicles were off the road.

About 93 domestic and international flights were cancelled and trucks stayed off the roads. Offices were either shut or reported thin attendance in many parts of the country and markets were deserted.

Though the screen-based stock market remained open, the trading volume at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) was down 52 percent to Rs 2,857 crore against a daily average of nearly Rs 6,000 crore.

According to reports by industry chambers like Ficci and Assocham, thin attendance was witnessed in commercial establishments in several states, while the economic activity came to a complete halt in states like West Bengal, Gujarat and Kerala.

The PHD Chamber catering mainly to the northern states, said the impact was felt in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and UP. The sectors which were badly hit were road transport and logistics, manufacturing, ports.

The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia said the opposition to the fuel price hike "did not make any sense".

Banking services were completely paralysed in the Left governed West Bengal and Kerala while some disruptions were noticed in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Mumbai.Life and business came to a standstill in the country`s silicon valley, Bangalore. All the software firms in this tech hub were closed.

With the exception of a few states, life was impacted in most parts of India with trucks and buses off the roads, educational establishments and businesses closed. Malls, shopping complexes and government and private offices also stayed shut.

The strike, sponsored by both ends of the political spectrum, the Left and the BJP, was peaceful in many places. But there was sporadic violence too, with 200 buses burnt in Maharashtra.

Opposition leaders, including BJP`s Gadkari, Arun Jaitley, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Rajnath Singh, joined their workers in courting arrest in several places. Left leaders Brinda Karat and D. Raja also did the same in New Delhi.

The shutdown was total in states ruled by the NDA parties and the Left. Leaders of NDA and the Left said the protest was beyond
party affiliations and will continue in Parliament in the
Monsoon Session beginning July 26.

In BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, for instance, life ground to a virtual halt as party workers tried to enforce the strike. Ditto with Bihar, ruled by the Janata Dal-United.

The situation was similar in West Bengal and Kerala, ruled by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), where normal life came to a virtual standstill. Describing the strike as "unprecedented", CPI(M) General
Secretary Prakash Karat said it "shows the people`s anger
against price rise."

The response was tepid in Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Haryana.

In Congress-ruled Delhi, however, opposition workers forced the strike on buses and shops during the protests following the central government`s move to end curbs on petroleum pricing and hike fuel costs in order to tame the huge fiscal deficit.

The Congress labelled the strike as against public interest.

The industry leaders including Rahul Bajaj and Adi Godrej have opposed the bandh and termed the protest as "odd and absurd".

The disrupted rail movement also contributed to the industry loss. Rail operations in the country, especially in the east, were severely affected with 73 trains cancelled and 192 disrupted.

The decision increased the price of diesel by Rs.2 a litre, kerosene by Rs.3 a litre, petrol by Rs.3.50 a litre, and cooking gas by Rs.35 per cylinder.

-Agencies inputs

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