Truckers’ protest leads to panic buying of fuel, govt holds talks to resolve issue

New Delhi, January 02, 2024.

Protests were held in many states on the second day of the strike by some truckers’ associations against stricter punishments in the new law on hit-and-run cases, even as the government began talks on Tuesday with the agitating groups to end the stir that threatened to impact the supply of essentials and led to panic buying of fuel in several places.

Towards the evening, truck drivers in Maharashtra’s Nashik district called off their strike after local authorities assured them of looking into their demands. However, Rajasthan saw some violence on Monday night as a mob burnt a police vehicle and pelted stones at security personnel, leaving three injured in Kekri district.

Some truck, bus and tanker operators began a three-day strike on Monday in several states to protest the “stringent punishments”. Under the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, set to replace the Indian Penal Code, drivers who cause serious road accidents due to negligent driving and run away without informing authorities face up to 10 years in prison or a fine of Rs 7 lakh.

In New Delhi, government sources said Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla was meeting with protesting truckers later in the evening and the issue was likely to be resolved amicably. They added that the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) has not yet given any nationwide strike call in support of the demand seeking the withdrawal of the new provisions.

Referring to the apprehensions, a senior government functionary said a driver who accidentally hits a person and subsequently informs the police or takes the victim to the nearest hospital will not be prosecuted under the stringent provision of the recently enacted Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS).

The opposition Congress, meanwhile, came out in support of the truckers’ protest, saying the misuse of the legislation can lead to an “extortionist network” and “organised corruption”. Party chief Mallikarjun Kharge accused the government of “penalising the poor” while stalling investment in the infrastructure sector.

On the second day of the strike, fuel pumps at many places in Himachal Pradesh turned away motorists, saying they had run out of stock as petrol and diesel were not being transported, while the Chandigarh administration ordered rationing of fuel to two- and four-wheelers.

There were massive queues at fuel stations across Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir as the strike hit supplies and people went on a panic-buying spree. People rushed to petrol pumps in large numbers in some parts of Haryana as well as private bus operators and some auto-rickshaw unions joined the protest.

In Maharashtra, truck drivers have been staging protests at various places, including the capital Mumbai, Nagpur, Solapur, Dharashiv, Navi Mumbai, Palghar, Nagpur, Beed, Hingoli, Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar, Nashik, Gadchiroli and Wardha. The movement of nearly five lakh vehicles in Madhya Pradesh was affected and many passengers were stranded as drivers did not operate the inter-city buses due to the strike.

Industry officials said about 2,000 petrol pumps, mostly in western and northern India, have run out of fuel stocks as people resorted to panic buying over fears of stock shortage. While state-owned oil firms had topped up tanks at most petrol pumps across the country in anticipation of the truckers’ strike, some pumps in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab ran out of stock due to heavy rush.

Most petrol pumps in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala, Kullu-Manali, Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Chamba, Una and Shimla were turning away customers, while massive queues were seen outside the ones still in operation.

District authorities of Hamirpur, Una and Bilaspur have issued directions for rationing of fuel, and the Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation (HRTC) has started rationalising routes. It has stopped the plying of buses on 138 routes with low occupancy.

Responding to questions about the protest, Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu said the situation was under control but it could worsen if the strike continued. The Union government needed to understand the demands of the truck drivers, he added.

There were massive queues at fuel stations across Jammu and Kashmir. The J-K fuel station owners’ association said 90 per cent of petrol pumps have gone dry in Jammu and in the next few hours, all stocks will run out as 1,500 tankers carrying fuel to the Union territory and Ladakh were on strike.