With truck operators adamant on continuing their boycott of bidding process, the Punjab government on Tuesday decided to allow arhtiyas (commission agents) to transport wheat procured through them in clusters where no bids have been received.
A decision to this effect was taken at a high-level meeting chaired by the chief secretary after the truck operators announced continuation of their boycott of the tendering process to protest against the state government’s decision to cut foodgrain transportation rates in the state.
The new transportation policy provided for arhtiyas and rice shellers to submit bids in case tenders are not allotted in three attempts. “Now, the government has gone a step further by deciding to allot transportation work directly to arhtiyas on nomination basis in such clusters,” said an officer privy to the development.
Principal Secretary, food and supplies, KAP Sinha has written to Mandi Board for fixation of transportation charges per quintal per kilometre payable to arhtiyas during the Rabi season 2018-19.
The Mandi Board fixes the rates of cleaning, weighing, stitching and loading of foodgrains for arhtiyas. This is the first-time ever commission agents are being involved in foodgrain transportation. The state has about 20,000 arhtiyas.
The government move came barely hours after the Punjab Truck Operators’ Union, which held a meeting of its district chiefs and members of working
committee at Sahnewal, decided not to participate in the tendering process for wheat transportation. “The boycott will continue. After the Patiala meeting, we checked with all truck operators. About 75% of them refused to work at rates being offered by the government for transportation of wheat and paddy procured in the state,” said union president Happy Sandhu, putting the number of truck operators associated with his organisation at 93,000.
Despite the boycott call, the state government has gone ahead with finalisation of bids. “Of 402 clusters, technical bids for 205 have been finalised and financial bids will be opened on Wednesday,” said the officer. In nine districts, bids for all clusters have been more or less finalised. These include Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Mansa, Pathankot, Muktsar Fazilka, Kapurthala and Ropar. In the remaining 197 clusters, only 121 bids have been received. And, it is in such clusters where there are no bids that the government intends to award the transportation work to arhtiyas.
Truck operators and the state government have been at loggerheads from the time the latter decided to cap the foodgrain transportation rates.
The operators were charging much higher rates than those at which reimbursement was being made by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to the state government. The FCI reimburses the government at a fixed schedule of rates (SOR) with a premium, but there was a huge disparity in rates across districts for the same distance.
While the FCI paid the state about ₹350 crore for transportation last year, the fund-starved government had to take a hit of about Rs 175 crore, said the officer requesting anonymity.
The food and supplies department decided to cap the premium at 120% over and above SOR this time. However, truck operators rejected the cap, saying they would not be able to meet their operational costs at these rates.