07/02/2008, 00.00
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More than four million truckers on strike, transport at a standstill

Truck drivers are protesting fuel taxes and tolls. The shutdown is raising fears about higher inflation since 70 per cent of goods are transported by road. The Indian government is coming under increasing attack for failing to stop inflation.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Nearly four million trucks are off India's roads after their owners began an indefinite strike to protest against rising fuel bills and government toll taxes on highways. This episode is the latest in a series to hit the country in the last few months. The current government appears increasingly out of step with the public ahead of next year’s general election.

Truck operators "have no choice but to stay off the roads", said Charan Singh Lohara of the All India Motor Transport Congress.

"We are already running under huge losses. The cost of diesel is so high that we have nothing left to live on. The government must reduce the multiple taxes to compensate for the increasing cost of fuel.”

Operators are due to meet Finance Minister P Chidambaram tomorrow.

More than 70 per cent of the country's goods are moved by road transport, including food and other essential items and the strike is likely to push up their prices.

A similar week-long strike in 2004 slowed down the annual growth in industrial output by 0.5 per cent.

India imports nearly 75 per cent of its crude oil requirements and controls the price of domestic fuel products to help contain inflation and protect the poor.

Rising fuel prices helped push up India's inflation rate to 11.42 percent in the week by mid-June, the highest since in 13 years, with a heavy impact on food prices.

In June, the authorities raised fuel prices by 10 per cent to 50.56 rupees (US$ 1.20) a litre on 4 June, already lower than world averages.

This led to street protests, a situation that has further weakened the government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faced with elections next year.

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