The indefinite strike launched by Punjab truck operators on the state’s border with Haryana brought the traffic movement to a grinding halt on National Highway 1 (NH-1) near Patiala’s Shambhu on Saturday, the second day of their agitation.
The protesting truckers are seeking the rollback of state government’s decision pertaining to their unions, which were disbanded in 2017 after the then Captain Amarinder Singh-led government introduced the Punjab Goods Carriages (Regulation and Prevention of Cartelisation Rules).
Harshita Rathore, a Delhi-bound commuter travelling from Himachal Pradesh’s Dalhousie, who was stuck in the traffic jam, said, “There were no clear directions. The signboards were in Punjabi, which were not visible even due to dense fog at night. It took us around 17 hours to reach Delhi.”
Patiala deputy commissioner Sakshi Sawhney said, “We are trying to engage them (protesters) in a dialogue since Friday. Meanwhile, we have diverted the traffic. We are also in touch with the Ambala administration, so there is no difficulty on either side.”
Shambhu station house officer Kirpal Singh said, “Two diversion routes have been made. The commuters going to Patiala from Ambala are being diverted towards Sarhala road and then to Mahru village, from where they can reach Ghanaur and then Patiala. Those travelling from Ludhiana to Delhi are being diverted from Baba Mod, Rajpura, towards Banur to reach Ambala via Lalru.”
What caused the deadlock
The Punjab finance minister Harpal Singh Cheema-led cabinet subcommittee had on December 23 met the representatives of the truck operators and discussed their issues. However, the talks remained inconclusive. The panel had to submit its report by January 31, 2023, after discussing all aspects with the industry, truck operators and other stakeholders.
Paramjeet Singh, a representative of the truck operators from Fazilka and a part of the four-member committee that is spearheading the protest, said, “Earlier, we didn’t agree to the suggestion of the finance minister to form a panel. However, we had told them that the unions would continue to work, while the committee can issue a statement saying that it would submit its report by January 31.”
He claimed that the committee agreed to give a statement after discussing it with the officers. “However, they didn’t give any statement. Transport minister Laljit Bhullar had also assured to resolve the issue in two days and said that he would try to get a statement about reinstating the unions from chief minister Bhagwant Mann,” he added.
“We tried to reach out to ministers, but in vain. Then we decided on December 28 to go on an indefinite protest Friday onwards until our demand is met. There are over 12,000 truckers who are seeking the reinstatement of unions,” Paramjeet said.
President of All Punjab Truck Operator Union Happy Sandhu said, “Our main motive is to reinstate truck unions. This is our only demand.” He also had on November 25 written in a letter that the decision to disband truck unions would devastate the truck operators.
The decision to dissolve at least 134 truck unions had earlier also met with displeasure and over 90,000 trucks were kept off the roads during a protest in June 2017. However, in a communique, the Punjab government had then ruled out rollback of the decision to ban truck unions in the state.