As the wheat harvest draws closer, the Punjab Government has come up with its Labour and Cartage policy for 2018-19, for the worker-transport-intensive task of grain procurement. The procurement season will start from April 1 onwards. Raakhi Jagga finds out what the policy is and why some are upset with it:
What is the Labour and Cartage policy?
It is a policy framed ever year ahead of the wheat harvesting season, laying down charges for the lifting of grains from mandis, transporting them to the godowns for storage, and their onward transportation to other states from the godowns. The entire operation is conducted by the government through various its procurement agencies.
The policy covers three types of work: for workers in Mandis who clean the grain, pack it in gunny bags, sew up the bags, and then load them into trucks; for transport of the grain from mandis till designated godowns and also further to railway stations for sending it to other states; for Palledar, who unload the grain bags from trucks and do the stacking of this grain inside the godowns, and later load it into trucks for onward transportation to railway stations.
So what is the policy this year?
For the first time, the Government has decided to give labour and construction societies, that exist in villages, first preference. Registered with the state government’s cooperative department, they carry out small construction works in the villages.Where societies do not respond, tenders will be floated in the open market. By Tuesday’s deadline for societies, the response from societies was poor. Only three have responded in in Muktsar and two got work while only one society responded to a tender call in Bathinda and got work. The tenders for private contractors will be opened on March 29.
The ‘basic rate’ the government is offering to societies is Rs 1.62 per 50 kg bag loading charges( into trucks that will take it from godown to railway station for sending it outside Punjab) and 1.93 per 50 kg bag as stacking charges inside the godown. Societies say the rates are not attractive enough for them.
Then how would these rates be attractive to the bigger players?
The rates are different for the bigger labour suppliers as they can bid over the basic rates. But this year, that too has been capped at 120% of the basic, and no tender can be awarded above this rate. Last year, there was a cap of 136 per cent, but this was not strictly followed, and some contractors even quoted up to 250 per cent of the basic rate, said Shiner Pal Singh, general secretary of Punjab Palledar Union.
What about transport rates?
For transporters as well, there is a capping of 120% on the basic rates from mandi to godown which are lower than last year. Truckers have been asked to attach turnover of previous financial year . This year distance has been divided into different slabs: for a distance of 8-9 km the price offered is Rs 9.28 per quintal: for 9-10 km it is Rs 10.03 per quintal; for 10-11 km price it is is Rs 10.77 per quintal; for 11-12 km, it is Rs 11.52 per quintal. With the above charges the rate worked out by truckers is ranging from Rs 1837- Rs 2270 for different slabs. Last year, transporters were making Rs 5400 per truck in the smallest distance slab of 8-12 kms, said Rampal Benival, former President of Punjab’s truck union. Truckers have given in writing to DCs to change the rates before the procurement season starts.
What about those who clean and pack the grain in the mandis?
But people working in mandis in jobs such as sieving of grain, filling in bags, sewing etc are unaffected. Over a lakh persons work in these jobs in Punjab’s Mandis.These workers are hired by commission agents (ahrtiyas) and their charges are linked with the consumer price index. Last year, they were being paid on an average Rs 6 a bag and this year charges have been increased by 10-15 paise per bag. Procurement agencies pay ahrtiyas who pay the workers.
What do the food and civil supplies officials say?
Officials said the new policy aims to give a chance to village level construction societies first so as to generate employment at village level. At the same time, they hope to get realistic bids for procurement, and put an end to the practice of quoting from 200% to 600% above the basic charges.
What are the challenges ahead?
The main objection is coming from truckers. Over 90,000 truckers of Punjab operate under 134 truck unions. They are unhappy with the changes and hence have planned not to participate in tender process which may hamper the lifting process if not sorted out in time. The palledar union also plans protests if the Government does not convince them of the policy details well in time.