With the strike by LPG cylinder transporters continuing for the fourth day, PSU major Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) on Sunday said that nearly six lakh customers across the Northeastern region have been affected due to non-delivery of cooking gas. The North East Packed LPG Transporter Association(NEPLTA), the members of which transport cylinders from bottling plants to dealers, have launched an indefinite strike on August 27 protesting against several provisions of the latest contract renewal tender floated by IOC, which include lowering of existing rates.
The company claimed that the NEPLTA is adamant on its demand and the first round of talks has failed, while the agitators alleged that the PSU has not taken any initiative to address their issues. "Every day, nearly 1.5 lakh customers are affected by the strike and as the strike enters the 4th day today, nearly six lakh customers have been deprived of an LPG cylinder," IOC said in a statement.
It said that IOC management has requested the transporters to withdraw the strike, which allegedly started without serving notice. If the strike continues, it will put all the LPG consumers across the region in distress, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when most customers are operating from home,the statement said.
"Prior to the strike, the backlog of LPG cylinder delivery in the region had been reduced from nearly 10 days to only 1.6 days recently, which has increased to over two days as the strike progresses," it added. The company also said that it has apprised the state government and the district authorities of the situation.
NEPLTA said it is protesting against floating of the tender from Kolkata instead of Guwahati, lowering of existing rates, increasing the carrying capacity and some other issues. "We met IOC officials on Friday, but they refused to listen to us. They said they will write to us on Monday. We sent them a reminder today," NEPLTA President Niranjan Mahanta told PTI.
He said the association will continue the strike till the demands are met. IOC said that the company officials tried to explain to the transporters the benefits they will get from the new tender, which include 10-13 per cent rise in income.
"However, the transporters stuck to their demand of minimum 50 per cent hike in earnings/trip" and refused to budge from their other demands, it said in the statement. IOC further said that while the transport sector in general is making losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the business of LPG carriers has not been affected.
"There are also a lot of new parties who want to offer LPG trucks and are interested in participating in the tender but the present system does not allow fresh entrants into the business, the company said adding that the tender is on hold since 2018. Employment generation will be affected if the entry of new transporters continues to be blocked, it said.
NEPLTA operates around 5,000 trucks to transport LPG cylinders from IOC's bottling plants to various distributors across Assam, Mahanta said. The association had submitted a memorandum on August 24 that said the rate in the new tender is lower than the existing base rate and urged the company to re-estimate it by taking into account the enhanced fuel prices, taxes and maintenance cost of trucks.
NEPLTA went into a strike in 2018 also over exactly the same issues when the company had floated the tenders from Kolkata. The process was taken to the court by the NEPLTA. The company had later withdrawn the renewal of the contracts and extended the existing ones.
The 2018 tender had increased the period of contracts to five years from three years and the same has been in this year's bid also. The IOC is currently operating 10 bottling plants,which was rolling out around 1.5 lakh cylinders every day before the strike for its customers across the North East. It has around 850 distributors in the region.