Prices for food and essential commodities spiraled upward Tuesday as thousands of truck drivers in India ignored a government appeal to call off a four-day-old nationwide strike.
Meanwhile, in Bombay, India's financial hub, hundreds of thousands of bank employees staged a day-long strike to demand higher wages.
The prices of vegetables, fruit and other foods were up by as much as a third at markets in New Delhi, amid fears the truckers would go through with a threat to stop delivering all food items beginning Wednesday.
The truckers are protesting a new 10 percent service tax on trucking included in the government budget being considered by parliament. A truckers' strike against a similar proposal in 1997 lasted 10 days until the government dropped the tax.
After three rounds of inconclusive talks Tuesday, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram urged truck operators to end the strike, saying it was hurting ordinary citizens. "Innocent people should not be made a victim of a totally baseless strike," Chidambaram said.
The All India Motor Transport Congress, the largest trade group of truck owners in the country, has threatened to keep its members' 2.4 million trucks off the roads until November if the government does not withdraw the tax.
Although fruit and vegetable markets in New Delhi received their regular supplies of produce Tuesday, prices have been rising as shoppers buy extra food in fear of a prolonged shutdown.
"Potatoes were selling for 12 rupees [25 cents] yesterday. Today it's touched 16 rupees. It's the same with all other vegetables," said Neelu Arora, an office worker in the Indian capital.
In Bombay, while most bank workers stayed home for the day, more than 1,000 marched in a heavy rain, chanting demands for raises while tying up traffic in the business district for an hour.
The strike against nine state-run banks was backed by nine major unions whose political affiliations range from Hindu nationalists to leftists to the centrist Congress party, which heads the government. The banks have proposed a 9.5 percent pay raise, but the unions are demanding 16 percent, the Press Trust of India news agency said, quoting Lalit Nagda, joint secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association.