New Delhi: Sporadic violence broke out in India on Wednesday as labour unions began a two-day strike to protest rising prices and government policies to open the economy.
Millions of factory and bank employees stayed away from work and public transport was shut down in most big cities after major trade unions called the countrywide strike.
With autorickshaws and taxis off the roads and metro trains and buses packed to capacity, residents of Delhi had a tough time commuting on Wednesday.
The central trade unions have called for the 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 Rs10,000 (Dh675.47) per month, along with daily allowance.
“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, said.
Sharma, who represents a section of autorickshaw drivers, said that despite the rising price of compressed natural gas, 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.
Workers armed with iron rods smashed factory windows and set a fire truck and several cars on fire in Noida, an industrial suburb of New Delhi.
Factory owners said police did not come to their aid despite frantic calls to them.
“The windows of many factories in Noida were broken. We called the police but they were delayed, and meanwhile the damage was done,” said Pankaj Shah, a factory owner.
A labour leader was crushed to death when he tried to stop buses from leaving a terminal in Haryana’s city of Ambala.
Narender Singh, a driver with Haryana Roadways, was killed after being hit by a state transport bus at Ambala bus depot.
Union leaders said that Singh and other employees were about to start their protest when the authorities tried to take out some buses from the depot.
Meanwhile, the strike evoked a mixed response in Andhra Pradesh with minimal impact on transportation.
Bank services in Hyderabad and the rest of the state were totally paralysed as over 70,000 employees of public sector banks joined the strike.
Work in insurance companies was also hit. Post offices also remained closed.
Coal production came to a halt in the mines of state-owned Singareni Collieries, with 65,000 workers across four districts of Telangana participating in the strike.
Company officials said the strike would hit 200,000 tonnes of coal production a day.
Police stepped up security at mines in Karimnagar, Khammam, Warangal and Adilabad districts to provide security to those who want to work.
The strike has also hit Vishakapatnam Steel Plant, another major public sector unit in the state. Over 10,000 permanent and contract employees of the plant joined the strike.
The shutdown also hit work at Vishakapatnam port, with employees staying away from work Wednesday.