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RANDOM THOUGHTS/Ramesh Kumar from New Delhi

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Good day from a wintry 11 degree Celsius Delhi. More than the steaming hot cuppa and accompanying assorted cookies, what’s keeping me warm is the happenings – rather developments in the transport ecosystem.

Two things top my chart. The fissures within the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) and the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) response to airconditioning of truck driver cabins from April next year.

First things, first. Less than a month ago, a new President S K Mittal from Eastern Region (read Kolkota) has taken charge of the country’s apex transport lobbying body representing, presumably 9.4 million vehicles, both passenger and freight put together. His induction coincided with the promulgation of “short term pain and long term gain” demonetization drive of the Narendra Modi government. Like every other segment of society, transport fraternity is hit badly. But the hardest, perhaps next only to the aam janta: 1.2 billion! Yes, the entire country.

President Mittal, I believe, has not gone home in Kolkota since assuming office because the demonetization drive needs daily – if not hourly – intervention by the nodal Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) to ensure smooth passage of freight vehicles on roads ferrying essentials and non-essentials, with AIMTC spearheading the initiative.

AIMTC team – not to be left out is the other two junior siblings viz., All India Transporters’ Welfare Association (AITWA) and All India Confederation of Goods Vehicle Owners Association (ACOGOA) – individually and collectively darkening the doors of the Ministry seeking various concessions (toll exemption, acceptance of old Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes etc among other things) on a daily basis. Excellent and worth applauding. After all, only the crying baby gets mother’s attention.

But there appears to a fissure in AIMTC of late. Mittal’s clarion call at this juncture to peg “fight against corruption” as the main item for the transport fraternity has not gone down well with his own colleagues at the top level. Hardly 48 hours ago, Mittal beseeched his colleagues:

“There are three major issues at hand:

1) Corruption free India –  A section of people are working on this tangent
2) Alternate Toll Policy – It is our long pending demand and is a continuous process.
3) In the present circumstances most critical one is the Enhancement of Cash drawing power that needs to be justified to the Government. Kindly revert back with your suggestions that can add value to the representation to the Government.”

This listing has not gone down well with Tarlochan Singh, one of the senior most AIMTC office bearers. Responding to Mittal’s Laundry List, his response is crystal clear:

“This is in concern to the recent Demonetisation policy and its shattering effects on the entire Transport truck We, at AIMTC, are in need of strong esteemed leadership and not someone who would commission it only through just WhatsApp messages.

We need to come together at the forum and discuss the issues everyone is facing in these torrid times.

Everyone has their eyes on the President to take the call and lead from the front. NO action or taking it lightly would only have AIMTC look weak.

It’s imperative that we action a meeting to get all the regional heads together under one roof without further delay.

The need of the hour is for you to take a stand and listen to the woes, pay heed to our concerns and to action the necessary ASAP.”

Tarlochan Singh’s ire is understandable. Well, his is not the lonely voice. Kultaran Singh Atwal, another senior AIMTC honcho, jumped into the fray too. Again, without mincing words, his take is:

“Our trade is crippled due to cash crunch and our foremost and immediate concern must be to get our wheels in motion.

Under such circumstances the working environment is getting from bad to worse. …. I am not denying that our fight against corruption be stalled as it is too damaging to our trade.

For that we also mend our act and adhere to the law of the land and desist overloading and over – dimensions of over vehicles.  Further, our long drawn struggle for alternate Toll collection policy shall continue and we are making ardent efforts to take it to the highest level.

The issue of Corruption and Tolls is a continuous process and can be handled in parallel. But my primary concern is the survival of our poor trucker brethren and small operators who are without cash and without work.

Let’s ponder and work together and MAKE ALL OUT EFFORTS to address this problem first, without which our brothers and their families are going without meals.

We all must fight to save our trade from receding into coma and must do all what we can to regain its health.

IT IS REALLY SERIOUS & MOST URGENT.”

The patient is in ICU. Needs quick revival ensuring smooth passage of freight carriers. Amazing that the transport fraternity has not pressed the “all India strike” button in the current life-and-death scenario. A lot of credit goes to the entire team of AIMTC for this positive approach.

Had this button been pressed, the government would have been hit the hardest, perhaps forcing a quick recall or rollback of demonetization. Why? Because stoppage freight carriages would have hit the entire population with the supply of essentials drying up leading to the inevitable massive price spiral which would have been a big anti-establishment tool for the poltical rivals to take up cudgels. Good god, that did  not happen.

It is early days for the new AIMTC President and he is in the Agni Pariksha stage. He is been seen and evaluated on the basis of his stewardship in this critical juncture. Not that Mittal is isolated on fighting corruption, but his timing and prioritization is being challenged.

Pragmatic, not idealistic approach is the need of the hour, tell his colleagues. Course correction from Asaf Ali Road can be expected soon. Good luck, Mr Mittal!

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