An apex body of transporters on Wednesday threatened to halt the movement of essential goods across North India and subsequently the entire country if the demands of the farmers protesting against three farm laws passed in September to liberalise the sector are not met.
The All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), an umbrella body of goods' vehicles operators representing about 10 million truckers, called for a strike from December 8 in support of the farmers' protest.
"From December 8 onwards, we will shut all our operations across North India and stop all our vehicles across North Indian states and UTs [Union Territories] including Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal, and Jammu [& Kashmir]. We have decided that if the government still does not agree to the demands of the protesting farmers, then we will call for a Chakka Jam all across India and stop all our vehicles," said AIMTC president Kultaran Singh Atwal.
Road transport accounts for about 60% of the freight traffic in India and 87% of its passenger traffic, according to the Union road transport and highways ministry.
Farmers, especially from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting against the three laws, saying say will hurt their incomes even as the government has maintained they will enhance them. They say the laws are a precursor to the withdrawal of government support for farming, and will replace existing middlemen with more powerful corporate entities.
In a statement, the AIMTC said the transporters are extending unstinted support to the farmer agitation. "They are fighting for their legitimate rights. Like the road transport sector of India, the farm sector is indeed the backbone and lifeline of the nation…Over 70 percent of the rural households depend on agriculture. Entire North India is affected and thousands of trucks carrying food, vegetables, and other perishable and non-perishable items coming from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, J&K [Jammu & Kashmir] are impacted and we still support them as 65% of the trucks are engaged in carrying farm produce," the statement said.
"...it is the season of apples, which are getting wasted, apart from that potatoes, onions and other fruits and vegetables as well as other essential commodities like medicines, milk, etc as their movement is disrupted, which is leading to their shortage in Delhi and in other northern states. The situation will get acute in days to come unless the government takes prudent and pragmatic steps to resolve farmers' concerns... [The farmers] are fighting their lone battle."
The farmers have been protesting for a week over the laws that allow businesses to freely trade farm produce outside the so-called government-controlled mandi system. The laws permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales and lay down new rules for contract farming. Farm leaders say the laws will leave them at the mercy of private buyers and vulnerable to exploitation.
Thousands of farmers, who are marching from various states towards the national capital to protest against the laws, have blocked all major entry points to New Delhi, demanding a repeal of the laws.