NAGAPATTINAM:The ongoing dispute between lorry operators contracted by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and drivers affiliated to trade unions is threatening to ruin Deepavali for LPG consumers as the refill backlog is mounting with every passing day. With supplies dwindling, LPG distributors are worried that the shortage may prompt the public to direct their anger at them.
According to sources, trouble began with a dispute between lorry owners contracted by the IOC bottling plant in Inamkulathur, Tiruchy, and the drivers. The owners refused to employ existing drivers blaming high wages, which led to stoppage of LPG distribution from the plant. Sources said the supply backlog only in Nagapattinam has gone up to 10,000 cylinders. It is not just the coastal district which is bound to be affected. The Inamkulathur plant caters to six districts in the central region, including Tiruchy, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam, Ariyalur and Perambalur. Every day, about 47,000 cylinders are distributed from the plant in 153 lorries. Things were okay until a couple of months ago when the plant management awarded contract to a new set of 153 lorry operators. As per the practice followed for the past 15 years, though operators change, the same set of drivers would be employed. However, this time, the contractual operators refused to employ them, charging that the wages they demanded were too high.
According to a source in the CITU, which represents the drivers, the newly-assigned lorry operators had initially agreed to operate about 100 lorries with the old drivers, while the rest were to be operated with new drivers from Namakkal. “However, a few days ago, all 153 lorry owners tried to employ new drivers from other places, which we are opposed to. This is what has stopped the lorries from coming out of the plant,” the source told Express.
The worst was Sunday when all the 153 lorries were not operated resulting in no supply and the distributors facing the ire of consumers. Sources said since October 1, only about 30,000 cylinders were being supplied from the plant, compared to a demand of about 47,000.
Pushed to the wall, gas dealers here have urged the oil company to make immediate arrangements to address the spiraling demand either by convening a peace meet, or by supplying cylinders from other bottling plants in Madurai, Salem, and Puducherry.
Despite several attempts, IOC officials at the Inamkulathur plant were not available for comment.