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Oil strike ends
Bhagyashree Pande/Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 9
Buckling under government pressure, the oil sector officers today called off their two-day strike that had nearly halted fuel supplies in the country, creating widespread chaos and uproar. After the strike was withdrawn, Oil Minister Murli Deora said he felt relieved.

Indian Oil chairman Sarthak Behuria said fuel supplies will resume in all places by Monday and cooking gas backlog will be cleared in a week’s time. To ensure smooth supplies, our refineries would be functional on Saturday and Sunday too, said BPCL director (marketing) S Radhakrishnan. During the day, the crisis management group headed by cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar took decision to move the Territorial Army to run refineries and supply installations so that petrol and diesel can be dispatched to filling stations and refueling can be done at airports. Also, the Air Force transport planes were kept ready to move jet fuel to airports.

Meanwhile, BPCL claimed that 70 percent of its workforce was back on work today. It is expected that majority of Indian Oil workers will join work tonight, said petroleum secretary RS Pandey.

Prime Minister has asked the Oil Minister Deora and Secretary RS Pandey to take firm action against the officers, said Home Minister P Chidambaram. The Home Minister, who heads the committee to resolve the grievances of the oil PSU officers, said he is willing to meet the officers even today if they come for discussions.

The government till date has arrested and sacked 3 GAIL and HPCL officers each and 64 ONGC officials under Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), said the oil secretary.

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PM fumes, briefly
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, January 9
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was driven to exasperation during the Union cabinet meeting today when he failed to get a proper briefing from the ministers concerned on the strike by oil officers’ association and truckers.

Petroleum Minister Murli Deora was unable to brief his cabinet colleagues about the strike called by oil PSUs, which led to unrest in the country’s major cities, while Transport Minister TR Baalu did not attend the meeting as he was away to Chennai even as supplies of essential commodities were badly hit by the ongoing truckers’ strike.

The scheduled meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), which was to follow the cabinet meeting, was called off as the Prime Minister was stated to be extremely upset over the attitude of his ministers. He later telephoned Baalu and asked him to come down to Delhi at the earliest to deal with the truckers’ strike.

UPA sources said Petroleum Minister Murli Deora merely read out a two-page note, almost as he was addressing Parliament, when he was asked to brief the cabinet on the oil strike. When the Minister failed to provide a satisfactory reply, Petroleum Secretary RS Pandey was asked to step in to give the necessary details about the demands of the strikers, the impact of the stir and the measures being taken to deal with the crisis.

There were some embarrassing moments when the PM asked for Transport Minister Baalu to tell them about the status of the truckers’ stir, but the latter was found missing. As in the previous case, it was left to the transport secretary to provide details.

Home Minister P Chidambaram, who heads the GOM on restructuring of salaries in PSUs, saved the day with his detailed presentation on the demands of the striking officers of oil PSUs, in which he virtually rejected their demands for higher wages on the plea that the strikers were already drawing huge salaries. He is learnt to have told the cabinet that a junior officer gets a monthly salary of Rs 1.3 lakh while the country’s Chief Justice is paid less.

Chidambaram’s briefing, it is learnt, agitated all the cabinet members, who felt that the demands of oil PSU officers was not justified and that the government should not give in to their pressure tactics.

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