Grain transport: Punjab truck unions remain adamant, rice millers join bidding
The stalemate between truckers and the Punjab government over the cap imposed on rates for wheat transportation continued on Saturday.
The talks between representatives of truck unions and officials of the food and civil supplies department could not make any headway even as rice millers came forward to join the tendering process in several areas of the state.
They submitted bids in 15 of the 58 clusters in Sunam, Dirba and Sangrur, which are known stronghold of truck unions, amid heavy security, said a senior official privy to information collated by the department.
Of 395 clusters, bids have been received in 150, including 100 where contracts have been finalised, in the above 8-km category in which large trucks are used to carry foodgrains. In short distance category (within eight kilometres), labour and cartage contracts have been finalised for 165 of the 314 clusters.
With truck unions boycotting the tendering process, the response from rice millers and other splinter groups has provided much-needed relief to state authorities. They had allowed rice millers to participate in the tendering process for transportation of wheat from grain markets to storage godowns.
Special helpline, security for bidders
The government, which has refused to give in to the truck operators agitating against its decision to cap the rates, has deployed 1,000 police personnel to provide security to bidders and set up a special ‘181’ toll free helpline, said the officer requesting anonymity. The state top brass had on Friday considered the possibility invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to ensure smooth procurement and transportation of wheat in the state in case the truck operators do not fall in line or create trouble.
Punjab Truck Operators’ Union president Happy Sandhu, who first held a meeting of working committee of all unions and then met the state officials in Patiala, said there was no headway as the government refused to increase the rate and the truck operators were not willing to carry foodgrains at the rate being offered.
“We suggested Rs 2,200 a day plus diesel from the department for carrying nine tonnes of wheat for a distance of nine kms as against Rs 1,650 being offered. But, they said the centre does not give that much,” he said.
Unions meet on April 3
The union has asked all its district chiefs to meet the operaters in their respective areas to take their view and will hold another meeting at Sahnewal on April 3 to decide its future strategy. The state transporters have been charging high rates for carrying foodgrains in the past 8 to 10 years, bleeding the state exchequer. However, the fund-crunched government decided this time to align the rates with the reimbursement it gets from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for transporation of wheat and paddy procured in the state.