KARACHI, April 9: All public transport operators and goods carriers will observe a one-day wheel-jam strike on Tuesday in protest against the recent increase in oil and compressed natural gas prices, said a transporters’ representative on Monday. While one group of transport operators said that they were observing a strike for reduction in fuel prices and did not want an increase in fares, another group said their priority was reduction in fuel prices, but a hike of around 20 per cent in fares could also be looked into.
Officials close to the Sindh transport minister said they were in contact with transporters and petroleum ministry officials and expressed the hope that the strike would be called off. The transporters, however, maintained that they would not hold any meeting with the Sindh transport minister because he had no power to reduce fuel prices.
Responding to Dawn queries, Karachi Transport Ittehad chief Irshad Bokhari said he was aware of rising inflation and hardship the people were facing so he did not want a raise in fares and was just demanding withdrawal of the recent fuel price hike.
He said because of frequent increases in diesel prices, a majority of local transporters had converted their vehicles to CNG at a substantial cost, but since the conversion price per unit CNG had increased by Rs24, it had became almost as costly as the other fuel.
He rejected the recent reduction in fuel prices and termed it unacceptable, demanding that the entire increase in the fuel prices be withdrawn.
He said at the current fuel prices, it was impossible to operate public transport vehicles.
He said Tuesday’s strike was just a ‘token’ strike and was only for a day and if the government did not reduce the fuel prices, a meeting of transporters would be held to decide the future line of action and the next strike would continue until the acceptance of the transporters’ demands.
The KTI chief said the transport secretary had called him in the morning for a meeting, but the transporters refused to meet him saying that it was beyond his jurisdiction as the transport secretary or the transport department did not control fuel prices so there was no point in meeting them.
However, he said they were willing to meet the petroleum minister, but nobody had contacted them from the petroleum ministry to discuss the issue.
‘Issue of extortion’
Responding to Dawn queries, Sindh Bus Owners Association chief Mir Afzal Khan said their association members were also observing a strike and all intercity buses would not operate on Tuesday.
He said that with the recent increase in fuel prices, it had become almost impossible to operate the vehicles.
He said there were many hidden expenses as well, like extortion, etc, which were increasing day by day and the government was doing noting to check the menace.
Citing an example, he said that all buses going, coming and passing through Tando Mohammad Khan had to pay between Rs400 and Rs500 as the ‘extortionists’ had the backing of a political party so the police and the administration were unable to do anything.
He said not only of fuel, but prices of all other inputs such as tyres, spare parts and other goods of daily use had also increased and, therefore, they were looking for a revision in the fare structure.
He demanded around 20 per cent fare increase so that transporters could continue to provide service to the people.
Responding to Dawn queries, All Pakistan Oil Tankers Association spokesperson Israr Shinwari said that owing to regular increase in fuel prices it was already difficult for them to operate vehicles, but with the recent raise in fuel prices, it had become almost impossible to provide the service so they were supporting the strike call and would not run vehicles on Tuesday.
He urged the government to reduce the fuel prices and bring them to the previous level.
He demanded that as prices of other inputs to the transport sector had increased, their fares also be increased by 20 per cent.
‘Negotiations under way’
Responding to Dawn queries, Transport Minister Akhtar Jadoon’s secretary Sarwar Khan said the department was in contact with transporter representatives and talks were under way, and he expressed the hope that the strike would be called off.
He said the petroleum ministry had been approached and he expected some good news from there as well.
He said the department was collecting prices of petroleum products from India and Sri Lanka for a comparison with the local prices. He said transport fares had not been increased and there was no plan to increase them.
He claimed that there was a tough competition on intercity bus routes and transporters were charging even less than the notified fares.
Replying to a question about those transporters who had already started charging increased fares, he claimed that as earlier the transporters were not charging the notified fares and passengers were paying less so the transporters might be charging the notified fares now and passengers, as they would be paying more than the earlier rates, might be feeling that they were being charged more.