Punjab truck operators call off boycott after talks with govt
Punjab truck operators called off their boycott of the tender process for wheat transportation contracts following talks with the state government on Friday evening.
The boycott was withdrawn without any assurance from the state government on foodgrain transportation rates.
“Truck operators will participate in the bidding process for transportation of wheat from mandis to storage points across the state,” said Punjab Truck Operators’ Union president Happy Sandhu.
The truck operators’ decision came after a two-hour meeting Sandhu, his general secretary Tehal Singh Butter, and presidents of various district unions had with principal secretary, food, KAP Sinha and director, food, Anindita Mitra. Former minister and Kapurthala MLA Rana Gurjit Singh and Markfed chairman AS Samra were also present at the meeting.
While truckers have now agreed to participate in the tender process, there are very few clusters left for bidding. The department has finalised the bids for 341 (about 82%) of the total 413 clusters in the state. They can bid for only 73 leftover clusters – 20 of these are in the truck unions’ stronghold of Sangrur. The tenders for most of these will be opened in next three days. They are also hoping to participate in tenders in case the department cancels the contracts for any cluster due to default.
While truck operators were adamant, rice millers and others saw an opportunity and successfully bid for transportation contracts in many clusters. The state authorities had allowed rice millers and arhtiyas (commission agents) to participate in bids in their attempt to tame the truck operators.
Anindita Mitra said their talks with trucker operatives were constructive. “The provisions in transportation policy were explained. They understood the situation and agreed to work with the department for smooth transportation of wheat procured in the state,” she said.
The department officials had held talks with truck operators on March 31 also, but they had decided to continue their boycott at that time. The state government and truck operators were at loggerheads from the time the latter decided to cap the foodgrain transportation rates.
“Transporters had formed cartels and were charging excessively high rates for the past several years even as the state was being reimbursed only a part of it by the centre. The end result was the state government was paying a substantial amount of money from its exchequer. Now, we will be able to save about ₹175 crore,” said a department official.
As the FCI reimburses the government at a fixed schedule of rates (SOR) and allows some premium, it decided to cap the premium at 120% over and above SOR this time. The truck unions responded by boycotting the tender process, saying they would not be able to meet their operational costs at these rates. However, the department went ahead with tenders and finalised most of them, forcing truck unions to fall in line.