Acknowledging the need to allow free play to market forces in the trade between India and Pakistan through the Attari border, Punjab's revenue and public relations minister Bikram Singh Majithia assured traders that “illegitimate monopoly of truck union would be put to an end.”
However, the minister also made it clear that injustice would not be done to truck owners, whose vehicles were often misused by traders and loaded with more than the permissible cargo.
Majithia made these remarks during a meeting with traders from Punjab, Delhi and other parts of the country. These traders, engaged in import-export trade to and from Pakistan through Attari road and rail routes, met the minister to sort out their problems with truckers and with labour unions operating at the Integrated Check Post (ICP).
Majithia was directed by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal to look into the issues of the traders after they recently met the two to lodge a protest over the “patronage” extended to truck unions by Punjab politicians.
With the consent of the traders, a joint working committee comprising officials of the district administration, police, customs and traders has been set up to work out a strategy to minimise hassles in Indo-Pak trade.
While calling for disciplining the truck unions, Majithia also cautioned the traders that no overloaded trucks would be permitted to ferry either way from the ICP.
The importers and exporters, irked by unionism prevailing at the Attari border, have demanded that they be allowed to hire transporters of their choice for ferrying their cargo rather than putting them at the mercy of truck unions at Attari.
The exporters of perishable goods have sought separate rows of trucks to cross the Attari border with distinction between those carrying perishable and non-perishable items. They have also demanded that exports be allowed to cross over to Pakistan through the ICP on trucks on first-come-first-serve basis.
They demanded tokens to be issued by customs at the ICP gate and suggested that only those vehicles be allowed into the ICP whose token number was announced/displayed at the ICP gate.
The traders have also demanded that the 'naka' put up by the truck unions on the main Amritsar-Attari highway be removed with immediate effect and submitted a memorandum in this regard to the minister.
Majithia directed DIG (border range) Paramraj Singh Umranangal to immediately look into the harassment and exploitation of traders at the hands of truck unions.
Traders' body says will not succumb to labour pressure.Meanwhile, the Confederation of International Chambers of Commerce and Industry has unanimously decided not to succumb to the pressure exerted by labourers operating at the ICP, which they claim were holding the Indo-Pak trade to ransom due to their dictatorial attitude.
Chamber spokesman Rajdeep Uppal said that labourers were collecting an average of Rs 25,000-to Rs 30,000 per capita every month. Labour was also charged for mechanical work in which no manual labour was involved at the ICP after it came into operation in April last year.
In this context, Uppal pointed out that the import of gypsum from Pakistan was handled mechanically and there was no involvement of labour. However, charges were nevertheless collected from the traders.
He pointed out that for export also, where the status holders and privileged export houses were sending their goods on self-declaration and thus not necessitating the use of labour, charges were still collected that was proving a huge financial burden on the trade.
Uppal said that the ICP working had been bogged down by involvement of self-styled leaders of the labour union which was creating hurdles in the smooth functioning of the country's first ICP here.
A leading importer, Pardeep Sehgal, asserted that the importers and exporters would only pay those labour charges where actual physical handling of consignments was taking place.
He said that the current labour rates at ICP were more than four times higher as compared to similar charges at Jalandhar and Ludhiana dry ports.
“It is perhaps the first case of its kind in the world where labour was allowed to take home wages without actually engaging in any work at the ICP and now the chambers have decided not to pay to these charges,” Sehgal remarked.
Majithia announces modern press club for Amritsar
Majithia on Tuesday announced that the state government would soon construct a state-of-the-art Press Club in Amritsar.
During a meeting with media persons of Amritsar, the minister said the club building would be raised on 3,000 sq yards of land at a cost of Rs 1.5 crore. The double-storeyed building would have nearly 8,000 sq feet of covered area. It would also house a lounge, meeting hall and library besides the dining facility.
Media representatives put in a demand for incorporating some rooms as well as a swimming pool into the structure, which was readily accepted by Majithia.
He also accepted the demands of the local scribes for authorising the coordination committee of media to work out further alterations in the club layout with Sandeep Rishi, chairman of the Amritsar Improvement Trust, who has been appointed the nodal officer for the project.
Majithia said that tender for the project would be floated within a month by the public relations department and the construction work commenced at the earliest.
The foundation stone of the press club was laid in New Amritsar area in November 2011, but the project has been hanging fire since then.
“We have announced to construct press clubs in various cities of Punjab and the first club would be set up in Amritsar,” Majithia added.