While states agencies in Punjab have been overpaying enormously for loading, cartage and transportation during procurement of grains, neighbouring Haryana is getting the same work done at exponentially less cost.
HT highlighted how an internal investigation report, submitted to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, has found that truck unions run by political leaders or under their active patronage command the rates at which grain is to be transported from the mandis to storage points.
Worse, these agencies are not only overpaying truck unions for transportation of grains, but also indulging labour unions in the mandis, paying them rates much higher than the prevalent prices. Other than labour, for cartage — that is, movement of grain within 8 km of the mandi — as well, the agencies up to 80% more than the basic rates fixed. The report has pegged the overpayment at Rs 1,000-1,500 crore per year.
In Punjab, the basic rates for labour and cartage are much higher than Haryana. Cartage rates for wheat bags, each containing 50 kg, and paddy bags, each containing 35 kg, are different in Haryana while in Punjab both are treated the same.
Further, basic rates in Punjab for cartage have been broadly fixed into 3 slabs — up to 3 km; 3-5 km; and 5-8 km. Exploiting the ambiguity, the contractor, irrespective of the distance, manages to get the payment for cartage on the basis of the maximum distance in the particular slab.
In Haryana, on the other hand, within the up-to-3km distance, there are different rates for a distance up to 500 meters, 1km, 1-1.5 km, and so on up to 3 km. Similarly for distances between 3 km and 5 km, Haryana has different rates for every half a kilometre. This system ensures that the transporters are paid according to the distance travelled, not the highest distance in that range.
For transportation beyond 8km, Punjab has not fixed any basic rates and these are fixed according to the tenders. This has led to a complete breakdown of rules as every agency is making different payments at different rates even in the same mandis. Moreover, since there are no basic rates fixed, the truck unions gang up and hike rates before every season. The report submitted to the CM states that there is an “exponential” increase in the rates being charged by the transporters in the past few years.
Minister speaks, but nothing on action
Punjab food and civil supplies minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon said he was “aware” of the shortcomings in the procurement system in Punjab. “We will be shifting to e-tendering in transportation of foodgrains in the rabi season this year, which will then be applicable for later procurements as well. We are trying to give every transporter a level playing field so that we get better rates,” he added. He, however, did not specify if any punitive action would be taken against employees of agencies who apparently colluded with truck and labour unions to hike the rates.