Cronyism: Congress leaders dominate murky sand trade in Punjab’s Mansa, via ‘truck union’
Two leaders of ruling party form monopoly over sale of sand and gravel in Budhlada as another aids with transportation.punjab Updated: Jan 04, 2018 10:02 IST
Sale of sand, monopoly over the business, and a murky system of transportation involving men from the ruling party. Sounds familiar? This formed one of the prime issues of last year’s Punjab assembly elections in which the Congress dislodged the Akali-BJP combine from power. Now, something similar appears underway, only with the colours changed.
All the consignments of sand and gravel entering Budhlada town in Mansa district for the past 12 days reach only one destination — the site of a transport company owned by district Congress committee (DCC) vice-president KC Bawa. He has joined hands with state Congress secretary Ranjit Singh, who heads the ‘truck union’ here, notwithstanding that the Capt Amarinder Singh government has, on paper, disbanding all truck unions.
Allegedly patronised by the Congress halqa (constituency) in-charge from Budhlada, Ranjit Kaur Bhatti, the sand is sent by another Congressman, Manjit Singh Sohi, from Ludhiana.
This has hit the other local traders of building material with the Bawa-Sohi emerging as sole sellers of sand and gravel in an apparent pact with the ‘truck union’ headed by Ranjit Singh.
Ranjit Singh, when contacted, said the truck union exists and he heads it, and acknowledged that all sand and gravel consignments are indeed being offloaded only at Bawa and Sohi’s office and site. “It is a mutual understanding among truckers,” he said, when asked why was he was not allowing any truck from outside to carry sand consignments of traders other than ‘Ess Transport’.
Bhatti, who lost the assembly election from Budhlada, had called the local sand traders to resolve the issue at meeting at nearby town Bhoa on December 26. “She, however, also called the ‘truck union’ chief Ranjit Singh in the meeting and asked the traders for a patch-up,” a local trader present at the meeting told HT on the condition of anonymity. Bhatti did not respond to repeated calls and messages.
Both Bawa and Sohi camp at the site office on Badhlada’s outskirts, purchasing the entire fleet of sand and gravel consignments at Rs 50 a quintal. ‘Sand available at Rs 55 per quintal,’ reads a hoarding there.
Bawa acknowledged Sohi as his partner while supervising the offloading of consignments arriving from faraway Sidhwan bet and Machhiwara banks of the Sutlej river in Ludhiana.
He argued, “The local shopkeepers were blackmailing truckers and were not ready to pay more than Rs 35 a quintal, so we have countered them by having an agreement at Rs 50.” At least 10 trucks, each carrying 500 quintals of sand or gravel, were offloading the consignments.
Ranjit Singh’s ‘truck union’ has a strength of around 300, of which 10% carry the sand and gravel without any valid documents.
Industry department’s Ludhiana district general manager-cum-mining officer Amarjit Singh told HT over phone that “shortage of staff” was the main reason for “self-assessment by the mining contractors”, when told that the consignments had no valid freight documents.
There is fear of a law and order issue arising out of the ‘union’ disallowing other trucks from carrying sand to other traders. Budhlada deputy superintendent of police (DSP) Rachpal Singh said a group of local sand dealers had approached him with the problem to be resolved, but there was no formal complaint. “I have assured them that nobody would be allowed to stop entry of any truck from outside carrying sand for any dealer,” the DSP told HT.
He added, “I had also called Ranjit Singh to resolve the issue. But, there has to be a visible instance or a formal complaint that truckers are still dominating in the name of a union.”