NEW DELHI Feb 19 Major Indian trade unions have
called for a two-day strike starting on Wednesday, as the
beleaguered government prepares to present an austerity budget
to parliament and weather a corruption scandal in a big arms
Financial services, mining and transport are likely to be
affected by the strike, called by all major trade unions to
protest high inflation, a fuel price increase and what they say
are violations of labour laws.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, grappling with the country's
worst economic slowdown in a decade, asked the unions to call
off the strike, but talks between a ministerial panel and union
leaders broke down on Monday.
"As far as we have seen, the government has nothing to offer
to labourers," said Atridev Tiwari, general secretary of
Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (Indian Workers Union), one of the main
unions leading the strike.
"It doesn't matter what the prime minister says now because
we cannot rely on his word. He says something and does something
The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry said the
two-day strike was expected to cause an estimated loss of 150
billion-200 billion rupees ($2.8 billion-$3.8 billion), hurting
sectors such as banking, insurance and transport.
Narsing Rao, the head of state-owned Coal India Limited
which accounts for about 80 percent of India's coal,
said output losses this week could touch 4 million tonnes
pushing the company further away from its production target of
464 million tonnes in this fiscal year through March.
"The strike is totally uncalled for and will be
destructive," said Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the
Confederation of Indian industries.
Parliament's budget session begins on Thursday.
India's finance minister plans to cut the public spending
target for fiscal 2013/14 by up to 10 percent from this year's
original target, in what would be the most austere budget in
recent history as he tries to avert a sovereign credit
The session is also likely to be disrupted by opposition
protests over a $750 million deal for AgustaWestland helicopters
that the defence ministry is threatening to cancel over
allegations of kickbacks.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has said the prime
minister's offer of a debate on the deal is not sufficient, but
has not specified how it will respond.
The last two sessions of India's parliament were badly
disrupted by opposition protests and little business was
($1= 54.18 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Manoj Kumar, Annie Banerji, Malini Menon; Editing
by Raju Gopalakrishnan)