The State on Tuesday felt the initial brunt of the two-day nationwide general strike called by trade unions, with public transport and freight movement coming to almost a dead stop.
The first day of the 48-hour shutdown was mostly peaceful, except at Manjeri in Malappuram where traders fended off an attempt by trade unionists to close shops forcibly.
Strike supporters blocked railway tracks, upsetting rail schedules and causing trains to run late. Autorickshaws, buses and taxis remained off the road, leaving passengers with little means to reach their destinations. However, private vehicles plied as usual and travelling by getting free rides in passing cars and motorbikes was the norm for many stranded by the strike.
Retail business remained mostly unaffected, with a large number of shops and restaurants opening for business. However, wholesale markets came to a standstill, raising the spectre of a rise in commodity prices.
Pottivelu Subramaniam, head of one of the oldest trading houses in the historic Chalai market in Thiruvananthapuram, said with major labour unions boycotting work, there were no manual workers to unload freight. Trucks laden with rice, pulses, edible oil, onion and sugar were lying unattended. Freight services would slap a massive bill as demurrage on importers. They would naturally pass on the extra cost to consumers. Finally, the common folk would have to pick up the tab for the strike, he said.
The shutdown disrupted the delivery of subsidised cooking gas to domestic consumers, G. Sanal Kumar, general secretary of the Kerala LPG Distributors Association, said. LPG dealers serve an estimated 50 lakh households in the State. Mr. Sanal said workers' strike at LPG bottling plants and distribution centres created a massive backlog of deliveries that might take at least two weeks to clear.
Fuel outlets across the State remained closed. Panic buying on Monday caused several fuel pumps to run dry. The movement of fuel tankers has stopped, further exacerbating the fuel scarcity. P. Pradeep, a member of the Kerala Petroleum Traders Association, said fuel outlets with leftover stock would open at 6 a.m. on Tuesday. Fish, meat and vegetable retail was hit. Supermarkets ran dangerously low of groceries and essential provision. The manager of a supermarket said with the State overwhelmingly dependant on perishable goods freighted from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the price of egg, poultry and vegetables was likely to go up. The cost would normalise once markets re-establish cargo connectivity with suppliers in other States by Friday, he said.
Financial transactions ground to a halt with over 22,000 bank employees striking work.
The strike also brought work to a halt in most Central government offices in the State. The close down most affected the postal services. Delivery and acceptance of mail came to a standstill. Attendance was thin at Central Excise and Customs Department offices, Income Tax Department and Accountant General’s Office.