Punjab  govt, truckers  call truce for smooth paddy season, unions to turn co-op societies
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Punjab govt, truckers call truce for smooth paddy season, unions to turn co-op societies

After meeting with govt, banned unions call off strike, agree to register as cooperative societies on condition that one society will replace one union

punjab Updated: Aug 17, 2017 10:46 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab govt,Punjab truck unions,Captain Amarinder Singh
Labourers loading paddy onto a truck at Bhagtanwala grain market in Amritsar in October last year.(HT File Photo)

On collision course after banning of truck unions in Punjab, both the Congress government and the truckers on Wednesday struck a conciliatory note. The unions, which went on strike on August 10 after they were declared disbanded by the government, agreed to call off their stir after a meeting with Suresh Kumar, chief principal secretary to chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, on Wednesday.

It came hours after the striking truckers had sent out invitations to the media for a press conference to “expose” the arguments being given by the government in favour of the ban.

The unions, in a meeting facilitated by Markfed chairman and former MLA Amarjit Samra, have not sought any changes in the draft policy banning truck unions, but only demanded that the government honour the tenders signed by the state food and supply department till the fiscal ending March 2018 for lifting of paddy.

"The unions have requested thatthe ban not be imposed with retrospective effect. Our draft policy says they have to come under the legal framework and register as cooperative societies or partnership firms. This way, they will have to work under regulations and a regulator.They have agreed to do so,” a senior officer in the government shared on the condition of anonymity after the meeting. Some of the unions have already started to register themselves as societies and some others have sought time, sources added.

Inno mood to relent even after the protests turned violent and some trucks were set on fire, the government now also seems to be keen to ensure smooth sailing of the paddy procurement season.

However, Happy Sandhu, president of Punjab Truck Operators’ Union, later said in a press conference that the strike has been called off till the terms and conditions are in their favour. He contested the government argument that the unions had given a hit to Punjab’s industry. Did hundreds of industries in Mandi Gobindgarh shut down due to the unions, he asked, rhetorically. “The government is accusing us of pocketing Rs 2,000 crore extra, whereas we get just Rs 550 crore for both paddy and wheat procurement,” he said.

Also, both sides contend that the other relented. Both are citing the Punjab and Haryana high court’s observations — the government says they back the ban — and the truckers claim their writ in the court against the ban led to softening of the government stance.

As such, the truce might be short-lived. The government's main contention behind imposing the ban is to ensure that unions cannot coerce or dictate terms and prices to outside players. But, while agreeing to form cooperative societies, the unions contend that only one society will replace a union, something which will keep their monopoly intact. There are 134 truck unions in Punjab. They are also demanding that the government allot its tenders to only one society registered in an area.

“If any player from anywhere is allowed to get work, he may agree to rates that are not viable for us. This will hit the truck business. At present, the demand matches the supply of trucks. If supply goes down, prices will go up. It will create a monopoly,” the union leader said. “The ban had affected livelihood of 93,000 truckers and 6 lakh families associated with them. Farmers are already committing suicides. We do not want to add to their miseries. We will clear the grain lying in fields and mandis.”

First Published: Aug 17, 2017 09:07 IST