An indefinite strike by employees of the state-owned transport body that began Tuesday has badly hit normal life in Andhra Pradesh, especially in this state capital and in other major cities.

Commuters had a harrowing time since early Tuesday as a majority of the 19,500 buses of the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) went off the roads.

More than 100,000 employees of APSRTC launched the strike as the government refused to fulfil their demands, including a revival package to improve the financial health of the corporation and payment of interim relief.

Apprehending privatisation of the corporation, they are also asking the government to cut Motor Vehicle Tax and other taxes.

Students, office-goers and workers in Hyderabad had a tough time as only a few buses plied on the roads.

Though transport authorities claimed to be running 50 percent of services with the help of drivers and conductors recruited on a temporary basis, thousands of passengers could be seen stranded at bus stations.

While school and college students complained they were not allowed to travel on concessional passes, other passengers complained that were made to pay more than the normal fares.

Private vehicles and auto-rickshaw operators also tried to make a fast buck.

Three million people in and around Hyderabad travel by bus.

The usually busy Mahatma @@@@hi Bus Station, one of the biggest bus stations in Asia, wore a deserted look while hundreds of passengers were seen waiting for buses to their destinations in the state and neighbouring areas.

Similar scenes were witnessed at Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam and Guntur cities. Commuters were also put to severe inconvenience in the temple town of Tirupati and other major towns like Kurnool, Warangal and Karimnagar.

APSRTC authorities faced problems in running the buses with 10,000 drivers, conductors and mechanics recruited on a temporary basis as they had no prior experience of issuing tickets and working in the APSRTC system.

Leaders of the joint action committee of the employees union said all 119,000 employees were on strike.

APSRTC temporarily recruited 6,000 drivers and conductors and offered Rs.1,000 each to employees who have not joined the strike. The state government also decided to transfer supervisory staff, who joined the strike at the last minute.

As prohibitory orders were in force, Communist Party of India state committee secretary K. Narayana and others were arrested when they staged a demonstration outside an office in Hyderabad.

More than 12 million people travel daily by APSRTC buses within Andhra Pradesh and to neighbouring states. APSRTC entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 1999 for owning the largest fleet of buses.

This is the second strike in five months. Transport Minister Kanna Lakshminarayana said the loss on account of the strike would be Rs.100 million a day calculated at 66 percent occupancy rate.

APSRTC employees, who had initially put forth 14 demands, later reduced the list to six. These include pay revision and 8.33 percent interim relief till pay revision and a cut in Motor Vehicle Tax on the state-run buses.

They are also demanding that the government give Rs.5 billion as financial assistance to the corporation to buy new buses.

Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy said a strike during the festival season was nothing but "digging one's own grave".