DASS SPEAK:Instead of Fair Hire Trukers Face CCI's Ire

By Chittranjan Dass, Editor, SAARC Journal of Transport

 

Many years ago an arrangement was made by the Government of India that whenever the price of crude oil increased or decreased in international market, the domestic price of diesel / petrol for customers in India shall be adjusted accordingly. This was called “International Price Parity”. However the Government was not earnest and particular in adhering to this arrangement. They, some times, did not reduce the price when needed and often let go the increase when required and often combined the defined hike with the future increase. 

 

In 1999, couple of earlier crude price increases were not adjusted timely and cumulative increase of around 2.5 rupees per litre of diesel was enforced. Obviously unaware of this arrangement the then leadership of All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) took it as an affront and declared a countrywide strike demanding reversal of the price increase. In good faith truck operators took their vehicles off the road.

 

The AIMTC leadership when met the Government and placed their ONE POINT Charter of Demand, they were politely made aware of the existing arrangement of “International Price Parity” to which AIMTC as well was a consenting party and thus the agitation was misplaced. This led to a stalemate which dragged on to almost a week. Ultimately, the Government advised the agitators to come forward with another Charter of Demands. The Government assured to consider these sympathetically BUT nothing could be done about the diesel price increase.

The strike had to be called off. Transporters moved out the consignments which were lying in their godowns. Consignors began to push their cargo to transporters. Transporters’ business instantly came back on rails.

 

But same was not the case with goods carriage owners. They remained jobless during the period of strike. For the idle days, the EMI, Insurance Premium, driver / helpers’ salary the vehicle owners had to pay from their savings. This was one part. More significant was the pang of buying diesel at increased price with no means to get compensated for same. Notably the hire they get from the transporters only.

 

At this point the goods carriage owners’ frustration led them to care for their own future and created their own advocacy forum the ACOGOA. Ever since they are pleading with the Government for enforcing provision of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 for fixing maximum and Minimum rates of freight. Since 1999 the AIMTC has held at least half a dozen strikes when Diesel price remained on top of their Charter of Demands. But fixation of minimum freight rates were never the focal point. Each of these strikes, in which trucks remained off the roads, were withdrawn sans any relief on price of diesel or hire rates.

 

Unfortunately dynamics of goods road transport is such that goods carriage owners are not privy to Consignors / Cargo Owners. It is the goods transport agents (GTAs) who act as middlemen between cargo owners and vehicle owners. Any time GTAs can afford to pull down their shutters. Of sorts a lock-out. And perforce the vehicles become idle like the labourers during the lay-off declared by a factory owner.

 

Presently there is no mechanism, formal or informal, for ensuring fair and just rental to goods carriage owners. Everyone talks of free market forces guiding the trucking business but nobody wants to see that there are no level playing fields. Ironically more than once AIMTC, in order to make the headlines, has declared increase in price of road transport freight and suffered the disapproval of Competition Commission of India.

 

Once Cease and Desist Order was issued. This being violated a second time fine and jail term was awarded. The later was however withdrawn. Now for the third time in September, 2012 AIMTC had again reacted to diesel price hike and commanded it’s associates to increase freight rates. Consequently they alongwith innocent followers of AIMTC across the country are being hauled up by the Competition Commission of India. Where is the scheme for ensuring fair freight rate being paid to poor goods carriage owners?