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Posted on Feb 20, 05:18PM | IANS
New Delhi, Feb 20 : With autorickshaws and taxis off the roads and Metro trains and buses packed to capacity, Delhiites had a tough time commuting Wednesday as the two-day nationwide strike called by 11 major trade unions began.
"We will be on strike today and tomorrow (Wednesday and Thursday) as we are fed up with the government's indifferent attitude towards us," Suresh Sharma, president of the Rashtravadi Janta Tipahiya Chalak Mahasangh, told IANS.
Sharma, who represents a section of autorickshaw drivers, said that despite the rising price of CNG, the fuel autorickshaws in Delhi run on, the government has not revised fares. Besides, the enforcement department of the government harasses drivers unnecessarily all the time, he added.
"We know that the strike will spell trouble for a lot of people but we appeal to them to understand our pain too," he added.
The central trade unions have called for a two-day country-wide strike as their talks with the government on their demands failed to reach an agreement.
The unions have demanded concrete measures for containing inflation, steps for employment generation, universal social security, and hiking the minimum wage to Rs.10,000 per month, along with daily allowance.
Those arriving in the city Wednesday were especially vulnerable - they found themselves stranded at railway stations, airports and the inter-state bus terminuses for hours. Many were fleeced and had to pay double the usual fare Wednesday.
"I had to pay an auto driver Rs.250 for a ride from Nizamuddin railway station to Patparganj after waiting for about an hour. The fare for the stretch in a normal day is around Rs.100," said Sahir Seth, a resident of Patparganj in east Delhi.
"I had a very important meeting but I could not reach in time because there were no autorickshaws. I had to go to Akbar Road, there is no bus or Metro connectivity there. I waited for 45 minutes on the road, it's so difficult," said Angelina George, who works in an event management firm.
The Delhi government said all leave of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) employees had been cancelled for the two days of the strike, and enforcement teams have been deployed at bus depots to ensure smooth bus services. All unions of the DTC Tuesday agreed not to participate in the shutdown.
"In order to avoid inconvenience for people, today (Wednesday) we plied around 5,117 DTC buses. In addition to that, we have plied 6,153 RTV (rural transport vehicles) and 1,870 mini-buses. The same will be plying tomorrow (Thursday) too to facilitate the public," Delhi Transport Minister Ramakant Goswami told IANS.
A majority of the public sector banks in the city were closed.
According to a study done by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham), the nation-wide shutdown will cause a loss of Rs.26,000 crore to the Indian economy.
"In the wake of more than expected disruption, we estimate the loss to the GDP in today and tomorrow's bandh to be in the range of Rs.25,000-Rs.26,000 crore -- near 50 percent of the economic activity," Assocham said in a statement.
Attendance in major factories and offices in the national capital was poor, leading to low production. Footfalls in the retail trading markets also considerably declined.
However, many major markets in the city like Lajpat Nagar Central Market in south Delhi, Karol Bagh and Sadar Bazar in central Delhi were open for business.
With autorickshaws and taxis off the roads, it fell on the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) came to carry the commuters. There was unprecedented rush at many Metro stations across Delhi.
"There was terrible rush at the Rajiv Chowk station and everyone was jostling for space," said Mohammed Imran, whose office is in Connaught Place - the central Delhi business and commercial hub.
Some Delhi Metro stations like Rajiv Chowk and Central Secretariat witnessed crushing crowds since morning. Snags and delays were reported as Metro trains overflowed with commuters.
"Managing the crowd was very difficult today (Wednesday). Some Metro trains where stopped for a few extra minutes at stations because of the huge crowds and commuters who found the doors of trains closing tried to force themselves in," said Sushil Gupta, a guard stationed at Rajiv Chowk Metro Station.
Delhi Metro officials said that additional staff were deployed Wednesday to manage the unusually large crowds.
"Two or three extra trains on each line are on stand-by to manage the crowds. This morning on Line 2 (Huda City Centre to Jahangirpuri), we had made two extra trips," a Delhi Metro official told IANS.
The two-day strike has been called jointly by the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Indian Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and other such central organisations.