Affrontements lors de la grève pour le prix du carburant en Inde – juillet 2010

Strike over fuel price hike paralyzes India, dozens hurt in violent clashes

July 5, 2010

India turned violent, Monday, as workers of opposition political parties clashed with the police amid a nationwide strike called over higher fuel prices. The clashes have left dozens seriously injured.

Thousands of shops and offices remained closed, Monday, and streets wore a deserted look as people remained at home anticipating a violent backlash to the recent fuel price hike announced by the central government.

Violent clashes were reported nationwide as protesters of the fuel price hike went on a rampage, pelting stones at vehicles and shops. Clashes with police left dozens seriously injured.

Travelers were affected the most and huddled in airports and railway stations till announcements were made that it was safe to venture outside. The usually bustling Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA), one of the busiest airports in India, wore a near-deserted look as taxis and autorickshaws remained off the roads.

The violent clashes paralyzed opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled (BJP) and Communist party-ruled states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.

According to D. Raja, leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Congress-led government « claims it is working for the common man but it clearly doesn’t care for them. »

« Price rise is the single biggest burning issue affecting all sections of the society, » Raja said.

The Communist parties were allies of the Congress party before fallout over a civilian nuclear pact between India and the US.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari has slammed the Congress-led government of « bad governance » and pursuing « wrong economic policies. » The prime minister is « more worried about the financial condition of oil companies than the condition of poor people, » Gadkari said.

Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani had urged people to support the strike and make it a success to highlight the « insensitivity of the government. »

However, not everybody supported the strike call. Sushil Kumar, a daily wage laborer, said the strike call on Monday robbed him of his earnings. « The prices of food and other things are increasing. I have five mouths to feed at home. Today’s strike didn’t let me earn anything. What will I tell my wife? » Kumar said.

In secular Congress-ruled states like Delhi, efforts were being made to ensure that normal business activity carried on as usual.

States run by Congress allies, such as Tamil Nadu also were affected by the strike call with shopping malls and market places registering lower footfalls though many offices remained open.

The strike, market analysts, said tested the central government’s steely resolve to cut subsidies and trim a budget deficit by hiking fuel prices. The government is also planning to deregulate fuel prices in the near future. Fuel subsidies in the year ending March 2010 were roughly 1 percent of India’s GDP.

People protested against the fuel price hike as the nation is already reeling under high inflation rate. Economists believe that the fuel price hike will help the government save nearly $5.2 billion but add nearly one percentage point to headline inflation now at 10.16 percent. Moody’s economist Nikhilesh Bhattacharyya warned that the government’s « move away from subsidies to spend on development » is a « slow process, a very slow process. »

However, M. Govinda Rao, member of the government’s economic advisory council, said it was inevitable that the government would be taking steps to cut down on subsidies. « When you can’t expect revenues to rise very fast, it becomes important to reduce expenditure, » Rao said. « Our subsidy system is badly flawed. »

India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had also warned that people should brace for cut in subsidies. « (O)ur people are wise enough to understand that excessive populism should not be allowed to derail the progress our country is making, and for which it is winning kudos internationally as well, » the prime minister, who is an economist, said last week to reporters in response to a question about mounting criticism over cutting fuel subsidies.

Meanwhile, despite facing strong criticism, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government will not roll back June 25’s fuel price hike. On June 25, the government said it would raise the price of petrol, diesel and kerosene by 3.5 rupees (7 cents), 2 rupees and 3 rupees respectively.

In last year’s general elections, the Congress-led government retained power largely on a social spending-driven agenda but it inflated the budget deficit. Hence, the government has now resolved to cut down on costly subsidies to stay on target of reducing the fiscal deficit to 5.5 percent in 2010/2011. State-run fuel companies that are forced to sell fuel and gas at government-set rates, will lose around $11.5 billion this fiscal year, Mukherjee had warned last month.

The Congress party risks angering some of its allies which have opposed the fuel price hike. However, the Congress party is confident of receiving tacit support from its parliamentary allies as they realize that nothing is going to deter the Congress from pushing ahead with its reform agenda. The allies also realize that it’s not possible to keep on subsidizing and at one point a fuel price hike is inevitable. Besides, some of the allies face state elections in coming months and want to start concentrating on the election campaign

Protests Over Fuel Costs Idle Much of India

July 5, 2010

NEW DELHI — Protests against a recent increase in fuel prices shut down markets, schools, airports and businesses across India on Monday, and thousands of people were arrested as violence flared in some cities.

The effect of the demonstrations — led by political parties that oppose the governing coalition led by the Indian National Congress — far exceeded expectations, although no official estimates of crowds were available. Some people affected by the one-day strike said the sizable opposition would force the government to address protesters’ concerns.

“This will create some sense of fear in the government,” said Vikas Sharma, 35, the owner of a cloth shop in Old Delhi, who was sitting idly outside his store.

As it moved to eliminate subsidies on petroleum products, the Congress government said late last month that it would raise the price of gasoline by 3.5 rupees a liter, or almost 30 cents a gallon. Diesel and kerosene prices are also being increased.

India’s state-run fuel companies will lose more than $11 billion this fiscal year, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas said last month. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Sunday that the fuel price increases would not be rolled back, regardless of the scope of Monday’s protests.

The Congress government is paring market controls that keep prices of some goods artificially low in India. At the same time, it is investing in employment programs.

“The main thing they are trying to do is move away from subsidies to spend on development,” said Nikhilesh Bhattacharyya, an economist for Moody’s “It is a slow process, a very slow process.”

Opposition parties say the changes are misguided. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is “more worried about the financial condition of oil companies than the condition of poor people,” said Nitin Gadkari, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress party’s main rival.

Fear of violence and traffic jams kept some of India’s largest companies closed on Monday. Airports in Calcutta and Chennai were paralyzed, and taxis stayed off the streets in major cities.

About 1,000 people gathered at Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s main commercial hub, to protest the price increases, denounce political leaders and set fire to effigies with the heads of demons.

“The poor man’s plate is empty and the government is clapping,” read one sign at the protest.

Many Indians are not feeling the benefits of the country’s economic growth, which is expected to top 8 percent this year.

Inflation is driving up food prices, but salaries of low- and middle-income workers have not risen significantly.

“It is a very poor country, and that growth isn’t really broad-based,” said Mr. Bhattacharyya, the economist.

In Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, normally chockablock main roads were empty because most stores and offices were closed. Buses and commuter trains were running much less frequently than usual after protesters attacked some buses and blocked train tracks. Taxi drivers kept their cars off the road, making it hard for people without vehicles to move around the city.

Vikas Bajaj contributed reporting from Mumbai, India.

~ par Alain Bertho sur 6 juillet 2010.

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