Forty-eight days on, there appears to be no resolution in sight of the crisis that has brought operations to a halt at Adani Group’s two cement plants in Himachal Pradesh. Nearly 6,000 truck operators are on a strike over demands of higher freight charges.
Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu has taken note of the crisis and Outlook has learnt that he is set to meet representatives of the truckers’ body and the Adani Group on Wednesday to resolve the situation.
The two crisis-hit plants are the ACC plant at Barmana in Bilaspur district and Ambuja plant at Darlaghat in Solan district. Around 3,800 truckers are on strike at the Barmana plant and around 2,100 are striking at the Darlaghat plant.
The Adani Group took over the Ambuja and its subsidiary ACC in September in a multi-billion-dollar acquisition.
After apple growers, workers of cement factories protest against Adani in Himachal Pradesh.— Ashutosh Bhardwaj (@ashubh) January 3, 2023
Cement transporters burning his affigy at Darla Ghat, Solan, right now.
Adani drastically slashed the transporter's wages after acquiring ACC Ltd and Ambuja Cements. pic.twitter.com/2qPtjv9o2Q
CM Sukhu to meet Adani Group, union representatives
Earlier on Saturday, Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu expressed his willingness to resolve the crisis and bring both the sides to an amicable settlement.
Ram Krishan Sharma of the Federation of Truck Operators Union (FTOU) said Sukhu had proposed a meeting for Tuesday but it could not take place.
“The meeting which Chief Minister had proposed on Tuesday with stakeholders somehow has not materialised despite his assurance to the truck operators. Today, we have given a call for chakka jam all over the state on February 4 in support of our demand,” said Sharma, General secretary of FTOU — an interim body formed for the truckers’ movement against the Adani management.
Sharma expressed doubts if the meeting would be held soon as Sukhu is scheduled to attend a meeting with MLAs in next two days to finalise the government’s priorities for 2023-24.
Moreover, Sukhu was not in Himachal on Tuesday as he had gone to Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir to attend Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra’s culmination rally. He was expected to return late on Tuesday evening.
However, Sanjay Awasthi, the Chief Parliamentary Secretary (CPS) attached to Sukhu confirmed to Outlook that Sukhu is holding the meeting on Wednesday.
Awasthi told Outlook, “Chief Minister has called over phone and asked to fix a meeting for Wednesday. Our effort is to resolve the issue at earliest. Our approach and intentions are very clear. The company has to protect the interests of local transporters.”
Awasthi had reached out to truck unions earlier on Monday and had asked them to adopt a flexible approach to end the stalemate. He also asked the Adani management to protect the interests of truck operators.
Rs 100-crore revenue loss, 25,000 families affected
The Himachal government has suffered a revenue-loss of at least Rs 100 crore till now in its GST collections from the cement sector due to shut-down of the Adani-controlled cement plants amid strike by the truck operators.
There are more than 25,000 families whose livelihoods are directly linked to transport business at the cement plants.
Sharma of the truckers union said, “The biggest problem being faced by the truck owners is to pay EMIs of the vehicles which range between Rs 25-30,000 per month. It’s highly unfair on part of the cement plants to refuse the hike which was due since 2014. The cost of the fuel and other inputs have gone sky-high during the past nine years.”
Sharma asserts that the Sukhu government is just doing lip service when it says the cement companies have protected the interests of the locals —truck operators— and those who gave up land for these plants.
“Frankly, they (the government) also don't want to annoy the corporate houses,” said Sharma.
The Adani Group has blamed the transporters for the impasse. It has accused them of being totally impractical and forcing the company to close the plants. The transporters unions are effectively controlling and making all transport-related operational decisions that lie in the company’s domain, says the Adani Group.
The Adani Group management has demanded freeing the transportation market from the control of the unions, said a senior government official, who was earlier part of negotiations during a meeting with Industries Minister Harvardhan Chauhan.
Sharma says a meeting of the truck unions was held on Tuesday to finalise the action plan for February 4 chakka jam in Himachal. Most truck unions have agreed to strike in support of the demand for hike in the freight charges.
He said, “The truck unions have never been rigid. We have been giving valid reasons and justifications for the revision of the freight charges. The rates of transportation at Barmana in Bilaspur are Rs 11.41 per quintal per km as they had taken a revision in 2019 whereas it is Rs 10.58 per km per quintal at Darlaghat cement plant. The company has further cut the freights to Rs 6 per quintal per km.”