Commuters face hardship; ruckus in Odisha Assembly over drivers’ strike

NewsDrum Desk
16 Mar 2023

Bhubaneswar, Mar 16 (PTI) Buses were off the roads and good carriages and cabs on Thursday remained stranded at various locations in Odisha on the second day of the ‘quit steering’ strike called by Drivers’ Ekta Mahasangha. The striking drivers gathered on national highways and state expressways and stopped vehicles inconveniencing commuters.

Over 2 lakh drivers have launched a strike across Odisha from Wednesday for an indefinite period demanding social security, including pension after 60 years, accident benefits, and formation of a welfare fund.

The drivers’ strike also had its echo in the Odisha Assembly which witnessed back-to-back six adjournments and remained paralysed till 4 pm due to the ruckus by opposition BJP and Congress members over the issue.

People bore the brunt with commuters, including tourists, waiting at bus stops, skyrocketing of prices of vegetables and fruits, and non-availability of fuel at filling stations.

In view of the hardships faced by commuters, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Thursday urged Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to initiate steps to resolve the issue.

In a series of tweets, he requested the chief minister to take the demands of the protesting drivers seriously and hold discussions with all the drivers’ unions to find a solution.

The issue was raised in the Assembly by Congress Legislature Party leader Narasingha Mishra who expressed support to the striking drivers who have been demanding social security and other amenities like parking and toilet facilities along the roads.

Mishra sought a ruling from Speaker B K Arukha to resolve the issue.

Opposition BJP members also supported the Congress demand and trooped into the well of the House. The lone CPI(M) MLA, Laxman Munda, also joined the BJP and Congress legislators.

The opposition members raised anti-government slogans and held the state government responsible for the plight of people caused due to the drivers’ strike.

Unable to run the House, the Speaker adjourned the proceedings six times during which an all-party meeting was convened.

Normalcy returned to the House after the Speaker in a ruling, following the all-party meeting, asked Transport minister Tukuni Sahu to hold a meeting with the striking drivers and make a statement in the Assembly on Friday.

Meanwhile, Prasant Muduli, a member of the Drivers’ Ekta Mahasangha, said, “We have been requesting the drivers of all vehicles, including good carriages from other states also, with folded hands to support our strike and stop driving. As the drivers' community is united, there is none to ferry the trucks on the roads”. The All Odisha Bus Owners’ Association, Truck Owners’ Association, and Auto-rickshaw Owners’ Association, however, have not joined the stir.

All Odisha Bus Owners’ Association secretary, Debendra Sahu, said: “Though we are ready to run buses, the police have not been providing security to the staff and commuters”.

The bus owners, he said, were incurring huge losses due to no movement of vehicles on the roads.

Tourists visiting Puri, Bhubaneswar, and other places also had a tough time as they were unable to go to railway stations or airports.

Meanwhile, reports of fuel scarcity were reported from places like Balasore, Sambalpur, Bhubaneswar, and Cuttack as fuel-carrying vehicles were being stopped by the agitators on road.

Utkal Petroleum Dealers’ Association general secretary Sanjay Lath said fuel is sent to over 1,600 stations in the state from depots in Paradip, Balasore, Jharsuguda, and Jatani by 2,000 tankers.

As these vehicles were intercepted by the agitators, fuel stations were unable to refill their stock.

In a related development, auto-rickshaws and cabs also remained off the roads in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, and Puri for several hours on Thursday as the Smart City Online Auto Association members observed a strike protesting alleged humiliation by members of the Drivers’ Mahasangha.

The auto-rickshaw and cab drivers, however, called off their strike after getting an assurance from the city police commissioner that such incidents would not be allowed to recur. PTI AAM MM MM

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