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Congress CM brokers deal after Adani Group takes on truckers’ cartel in Himachal

Transportation starts at Barmana cement plant on Tuesday after 68 days of impasse between Adani group and truck unions.

Shimla: The 68-day impasse at the two mega cement plants, owned by the Adani group, with truckers cartel asking for higher freight charges has finally ended after Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu intervened to arrive at a settlement on the new rates for transporting cement.

This was the first and longest ever crisis which the new Congress government in the state faced amidst Rahul Gandhi ‘s continued attack on the Adani group, during the Bharat Jodo Yatra and later in Parliament.

Insiders inform that Adani group had taken a firm stand not to submit to the blackmail of the transport cartel in the state. The company even threatened to pull out from the state as it will not be able to sustain the plants because of very high transportation costs.

Company’s CEO Ajay Kapoor, on  January 19 wrote to the government: “It is a very alarming situation as unions are effectively controlling and making all transport-related operational decisions that belong in the domain of companies. Since the freight rate is controlled by the unions, they have artificially kept it at a very high level.”

“The government is committed to providing a favourable environment to all investors,” the Chief Minister said in Shimla

Deputy Commissioner Bilaspur Pankaj Rai confirmed to ‘India Narrative that the Barmana cement plant has resumed operation and trucks have started carrying cement.

Rai was one of the top officials involved in the negotiations, besides a team of officers, who managed to make the truck operators and company executives end the stand-off even though it is believed that the rates being asked by the unions were much higher than neighbouring states.

*Freight charges in Rajasthan are Rs 2.96 per quintal per km

*Punjab the rate is Rs 4.97

*Himachal has fixed it at Rs 10.30 per quintal per km

While the cement freight charges in Rajasthan are Rs 2.96 per quintal per km, in neighbouring Punjab the rate is Rs 4.97, a company official confirmed.

Chief Minister Sukhu, after holding talks with the company management and truck unions, announced on Monday that the new rates will be Rs 10.30 per quintal for single axle and Rs 9.30 per quintal for multi-axle.

More than 6000 trucks had remained off the road since December 16,2022 hitting the livelihoods of more than 20,000 families dependent on the movement of the trucks from the two plants.

The Gautam Adani-led company had taken over two cement plants in the state established by Ambuja cement and ACC in September 2022.

But, within three months of the takeover the truck unions started demanding freight revisions, quoting hike in diesel prices and other costs of inputs.

The group responded by shutting down its operations at Darlaghat (Solan) and Barmana (Bilaspur) and cut down the freight rates of Rs 6.30 per quintal per kilometer even as the unions demand Rs 10.41 per quintal per km.

By now even the truck operators have suffered a loss of Rs 118 cr while the state government has also been hit by several crores mainly on its GST collections and shortfall in power sale to the cement plants.

“Every truck was losing more than Rs 2,000 daily. Apart from this, instalments of more than Rs 25 crore of half a dozen banks of Darlaghat area are also stuck. More than 80 percent of the trucks have not been able to pay EMIs to the banks” admits Ram Krishan Sharma, an operator.

Sukhu is learnt to have spoken to Gautam Adani and offered to make an effective intervention to end the stalemate, and also provide proper industrial climate in the state.

Before this, Sukhu had met Rahul Gandhi in Delhi and briefed him about his plan.

Earlier, Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Industries Association also had shot off a letter to the Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu to draw his attention towards closure of several industrial units in the state owing to higher cost of transportation of raw materials, and finished goods. The union had complained about cartelisation of transport in the state.

President of the Association Rajendra Guleria wrote:  “The transportation cost is a worrying factor as also the  cartelisation of the transport in Himachal Pradesh. The transport cost is almost 40 percent higher than the rest of India, even in the hills. This has rendered the industrial sector highly unsustainable.”

He also pained to remind that investors who had set-up their units and given employment to the locals should not be discriminated against as had been the stance of the government towards truck unions.

Some years back, the Baddi-Brotiwala-Nalagarh industrial Associations had also to approach the High Court to ensure that unions abide by agreements on mutually acceptable freight charges.

Talking to media persons after the resolution of the dispute, the Chief Minister said the dispute between the cement company and trucker had come to the fore only after five days of the Congress assuming power.The  cement factory management announced that it was stopping production while the truck operators had gone on strike on December 16,  2022.

“Our government had also constituted a committee headed by the Industries Minister Harshvardan to solve the logjam and I was in close touch with the committee  for solving the issue immediately,” said  Sukhu.

“Finally, we have arrived at a consensus, thereby protecting the interests of both the truck operator unions and the management as well, besides the welfare of all others who were being directly or indirectly hit by the stalemate”, said  Sukhu.

He said, “the state government didn’t want the factory management to suffer a loss. We are here to promote industries in the state, and we are committed to providing them a favourable environment”.

The Chief Minister said that the Principal Secretary, Industries and other officers would chalk out a formula for matters related to the annual increase in freight rates. Apart from this, instructions have been given to the Deputy Commissioners of Solan and Bilaspur to solve the other problems of truck operators.