With regime change in Punjab, a political tussle has begun to wrest control of the truck operators’ unions, with ruling Aam Aadmi Party leading the fight for it. On April 1, four persons were injured when members belonging to the two factions of truck operators, one owing allegiance to the AAP MLA Amolak Singh and the other led by incumbent office bearers, clashed over taking control of the truckers’ body in Jaitu. Similar fights erupted for the control of truck operators’ union in Abohar, Moga, and Bhawanigarh too. Sources in police say such clashes have left at least 30 injured.
The truckers’ bodies are always the first to feel the impact of a regime change, and considering that the AAP has formed government with a thumping majority, its leaders and workers are trying to get the truckers — mostly moneybags with muscle power — on their side.
Truck and transport unions
There are more than 100 truck unions that control over 95,000 trucks in Punjab. The unions were initially formed with the motive of raising and resolving the issues of the truckers. They, however, slowly became part of the political circles as truckers fought for contracts to transport grains, mostly during the two harvesting seasons, to and from the mandis. These unions work with contractors who secure the contract from state and central procurement agencies. It is also one of the reasons why Punjab has truck unions at the tehsil level in the districts. The unions also aim at controlling the transport charges in favour of the owners.
The truckers’ bodies thrive on their association with the ruling political parties — primarily as the latter help provide shelter from police and district administration. The political allegiance of such unions change with the change in regime. Some of the bigger truck unions have been known to create monopoly in their respective areas with contracts with procurement agencies, earning huge profits. Small operators also remain dependent on the bugger unions for contracts. As pert conservative estimates, even smaller truck unions earn profits of over Rs one crore annually. The big money involved keeps politicians interested in these unions. There have been allegations of truckers forming a nexus with politicians, police and administrative officials and the officials in the procurement agencies to secure contracts.
Truck unions have no dearth of manpower in form of drivers, conductors, and labourers. This manpower also turns into muscle power in “times of need” and is also one of the reasons behind the clashes that have been witnessed in the recent past over wresting control of the truck unions.
Soon after taking assuming power in 2017, the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government had d issolved the truck unions. The move, at the time, had come soon after three people died and at least forty were left injured in clashes to take control of the truck unions in Punjab.
The Congress government passed Punjab Goods Carriages (Regulation and prevention of Cartelisation) Rules, 2017 prohibiting truck operators from forming unions in the state. The government had claimed that the decision was taken to break the mafia of goods transporters who had cartelised the truck business with political influence and were obstructing free and fair movement of goods transport. The transporters, on the other hand, alleged that Amarinder Singh took the step under pressure from traders and industrialists.
However, Charanjit Singh Channi, who replaced Amarinder Singh as CM in the run up to this year’s Assembly election, reinstated the truck unions.
The AAP’s promise
In the run up the February 20 Assembly elections in Punjab, AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal had promised to end the transport mafia in state and resolve all issues of the transport sector if his party was voted to power. Kejriwal had joined a transporters’ dharna in December and said that if his party forms the next government in Punjab, it will wipe out the transport mafia and accede to all demands of the protesters. “Give AAP a chance. You won’t need to stage another dharna ever,” Kejriwal had said. He had also promised to set up “a commission of 10 to 15 members” for the transport sector in Punjab comprising representatives of the state’s transporter unions. “This commission will formulate the new transport policy,” he had said adding that his party will see to it that the rift between traders and truck operators ends.
During April 1 clash, AAP’s Jaito MLA Amolak Singh was present when party leader Harsimran Singh Malhotra was made president of the truck operators’ union after a clash. After the clash, Congress leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira had targetted AAP. “..AAP MLA wants to forcefully install his PA eyeing financial gains through truck union operations. This is clear cut violation of Arvind Kejriwal’s directions to his MLAs not to indulge in hooliganism,” he said in a tweet.
Following a similar clash in Abohar, Congress MLA Sandeep Jakhar tweeted, “Is this inqulab? Is this the change we voted for?”
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