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Truckers' good humour is intact, but worries mount

By N. Ravi Kumar

CHENNAI, AUG. 27. You've got to hand it to the truck drivers from Punjab. Even six days after the start of the nationwide strike by truckers, their spirits remain high.

Their sense of hospitality and good humour haven't dimmed, as could be seen when groups of drivers huddled at the Madhavaram truck terminal offer tea to a visiting reporter. ``Bhai Saab! Chaai Peeyenge?'' one of them asks holding out a hot glass of the brew.

But then, the signs of relaxation may be deceptive. Other truck crews in the terminal and elsewhere in the city are growing restless.

The truckers engage in small talk and play card games, while some are busy cooking. Passers-by can easily mistake the drivers and cleaners of the 500-odd trucks parked at the CMDA's truck terminal on GNT Road for people on a picnic.

There is little cause for celebration however, as the strike threatens to disrupt their lives. Says Jaffar Mohammed, a driver from Haryana, ``we are running out of money.'' The reason: their customers in Chennai are not willing to move the cargo until the strike is over.

``We are making do with what we have, while others have started borrowing,'' added Shamir from Bhopal. Like him many others hope the strike will end soon.

The teashop owner, however, isn't really affected. ``It's business as usual. The only difference is that the customers are the same faces, whereas in normal times truckers come here, stay for sometime and move on.'' Language and food are two other aspects that bother the truckers; some of them who own the trucks are apprehensive that they won't be able to pay the instalment amount this month.

Noting that the strike would have only a partial impact, in the absence of vehicles engaged in transporting essential commodities, a group of drivers, including Mohammed Hamin of Haryana, Parmanand Ray of Bihar and Harinder Singh of Punjab, admitted that such strikes affected everyone.

Fuel offtake down

The major impact of the strike appears to be on diesel sales.

Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited sources estimated a 15-20 per cent slump, while those in Indian Oil Corporation said fuel sales in Chennai and neighbouring districts had dropped by about 700 kilo litres since Saturday.

Other than diesel, there seems to be little impact on supply and prices of other commodities, despite efforts of the striking truckers to persuade others to join them.

Supply as usual

According to S. Chandran, an office-bearer of the Periyar Market Traders Association at Koyambedu, vegetable arrivals in the market had not been hit.

In fact, there had been more than the usual supplies of some vegetables, a trend driven by the inability of the producers to send them to the north.

Rajinder Singh, spokesman of the All-India Motor Transport Congress, which is spearheading the protest, however, said that the strike was intensifying by the day.

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