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Highway blocked for hours at Karunagappally

By Our Staff Reporter

KOLLAM, MARCH 9. The National Highway at Karunagapally was blocked for over eight hours today by the residents of the township in protest against the move to downgrade the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) sub-depot there to an operation centre. The highway blockade, which began at 10 a.m., was lifted only at 6 p.m. after assurances from the authorities that the status of the depot would be maintained.

This morning, as part of a move to downgrade the depot, KSRTC officers arrived from Thiruvananthapuram and closed the depot office after removing the files from there. As the news spread, the Karunagapally grama panchayat president, Vasumathi Vijayarajan, started the blockade with the support of various political parties, trade unions and youth organisations. Traders from the township also joined the blockade after downing the shutters.

Soon the police arrived on the scene and arrested Ms. Vijayarajan and other agitators, creating a tense situation. However, hundreds of people from all walks of life stepped in to continue the blockade, and the police could do practically nothing.

By 11 a.m., the Kollam SP, S. Sreejith, arrived and held talks with the representatives of the agitators. But, they would end the stir only after obtaining an assurance from the higher authorities. They also insisted that the files taken away from the depot be returned.

By this time, vehicles remained blocked for more than 3 km on either side of the high way. Soon afterwards, the District Collector, Rajan Khobragade, reached the spot. Traffic was diverted through bylanes beyond the blockade points.

The blockade got a boost when the Rajya Sabha Member, N.K. Premachandran, the former Kollam MP, P. Rajendran, and top leaders of political parties in the district arrived at the scene and joined the stir.

Initial attempts to contact the Transport Minister, R. Balakrishna Pillai, failed. There were allegations that for quite some time, the Minister had deliberately avoided coming on the line. The district authorities then contacted the Chief Minister, A.K. Antony, and it was only after that the Transport Minister could be contacted.

The district authorities and politicians had also faxed a copy of the order downgrading the depot to the Chief Minister.

Mr. Pillai's assurance over the telephone that the depot would not be downgraded failed to satisfy the agitators. They demanded that the KSRTC authorities bring back the files taken from the depot. Conceding the demand, the authorities returned the files by 5 p.m., following which the blockade was lifted. The agitators then held a victory march through the town.

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