Strike total in Kerala; shops, malls, hotels shut

(EDS: Adds details) Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 8 (PTI) Normal life came to a standstill in Left-ruled Kerala where shops, malls and even small kiosks remained shut, roads wore a deserted look as public transport services kept away and even a houseboat carrying a Nobel laureate was blocked for sometime during the nationwide strike by 10 trade unions on Wednesday.

In an embarassment to the state government, a houseboat carrying Nobel laureate Michael Levitt, who was here as a state guest, was blocked for some time while he was cruising in the Alappuzha backwaters by protesting trade union activists.

Levitt, who received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was in Alappuzha with his wife and was stopped by the protesters near Kainakary.

State Tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran blamed anti-social elements for the incident and said strong action would be taken against those who created the blockade.

A case has been registered on the complaint of the houseboat owners.

The strike comes a day ahead of the global investors meet in Kochi tomorrow.

The tourism sector had been exempted from the 24-hour strike, which began at midnight on Tuesday.

Shops, malls, hotels and other commercial establishments were also shut across the state and private and Kerala State Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses, autorickshaws and taxis stayed away from the roads.

Railway sources said train services were unaffected by the strike and there were no protests at railway stations.

However, passengers who reached the railway station here this morning had a tough time getting vehicles.

Schools and colleges had declared a holiday on Wednesday and three major universities in the state postponed all its examinations.

A Kochi report said functioning of various public sector units-- Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL), Cochin Shipyard Ltd and Kochi port were not affected.

The shutdown also did not impact IT hubs of the state-- Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram and Infopark in Kochi but the Koratti Infopark at Thrissur saw around 200 employees being blocked by protesters from entering their workplace.

An Italian cruise ship 'Costa Victoria' with 2000 tourists was in Kochi for a day on Wednesday.

The visitors managed to visit some scenic places in the port city as vehicles were arranged for them, Cochin port sources said.

The All India State Bank of India Employees Association said around six lakh employees and officers of public sector, private, cooperative and regional rural banks participated in the strike called by the Central Trade Unions and Independent Industrial Federations.

The strike did not affect the Sabariamala pilgrims and the hill temple witnessed a huge rush of devotees.

While all trade unions in the country have joined hands in this protest, the BMS, the BJP backed labour organisation, has stayed away from the nationwide strike.

Meanwhile, the state BJP said the strike which was called a day before the investors meet in Kochi tomorrow, will affect the state's development.

With the trade unions of the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF and opposition Congress-headed UDF participating in the strike, most of the government staff did not turn up at the Secretariat here.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other ministers also did not attend office.

Ten trade unions, including INTUC, AITUC, and CITU have called for the nationwide strike to protest against labour reforms, FDI, disinvestment, corporatisation and privatisation policies and to press for a 12-point common demands of the working class relating to minimum wage among others. PTI RRT TGB LGK UD BN BN