“These oil tankers are of no use to us, if not for the IOC’s Una project. What choice are we left with other than protesting?” says Avinash Menon, president of a local transporters’ cooperative called the New Himachal Heavy, Medium and Light Goods Trucks Cooperative Transport Society Limited.
On July 2, at Pekhubela village in Una district of Himachal Pradesh, local transporters associated with the same cooperative society protested against the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) for allotting the tender for oil transportation to private parties — despite admitting the cooperative’s bid.
According to Menon, only the vehicles belonging to private operators are being allowed to enter the terminal premises, while the local transporters are left with questions whose answers are not with the local authorities.
In 2017, the then Union Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dharmendra Pradhan — in presence of the then Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh — had laid the foundation stone for the ₹507 crore Indian Oil Terminal at Pekhubella village.
The Union Minister had announced during a public function that local transporters would be given preference in transportation and distribution of petroleum products from the depot to different parts of north India, and that a tender for the same would be invited and opened in Shimla.
It would require almost 200 trucks in order to meet the needs of the terminal that would cater to 224 retail outlet, 22 kerosene oil agencies, 125 consumer pumps meeting requirement of 580,000 KL annually in Himachal Pradesh.
Considering the ambitious goals of the project — and with the prospect of giving employment to thousands — the state government even provided 61 acres of the village land on a token lease of ₹1 to IOC in 2014.
With their hopes high after the announcements made by the CM, a tender was filed in 2018 by members of the local transport union under the name of a cooperative society, New Himachal Heavy, Medium and Light Goods Trucks Cooperative Transport Society Ltd.
The society also secured loans of ₹20 crore in order to meet the condition to get the tender admitted, that is, to purchase the required number of oil tankers — the cooperative bought at least 87 tankers.
The society received an email on May 15 this year from the IOC eProcurement portal conveying that the bid had been admitted by the committee and the society was asked to get in touch with the authority concerned.
However, now that the terminal is almost ready to be commissioned in about a month’s time, oil trucks of only private firms, some of which are also from outside the state, are being allowed to manage the transportation and distribution of the petroleum products.
The entry of private firms’ oil trucks, at the site of the terminal, has prompted the members of the cooperative society to reach the conclusion that the tender has already been awarded to the private players.
The society, however, has not received any letter of rejection of their tender so far.
Menon shared his anger while speaking to Newsclick about the IOC not communicating properly to them, which has put the members of the society in an apprehensive state.
“Despite receiving an acceptance email from IOC, the local authorities present on the site are saying that our tender has been rejected, which is why our oil tankers won’t be allowed to enter the premises,” he said.
“It is a matter of great concern,” Menon said, “for the 500 families associated with the cooperative society, who will suffer huge losses.”
He added that the cooperative had filed the tender keeping in mind that the terms of the tender were in such a manner that there wouldn’t be any scope of negotiations between the two parties.
Newsclick contacted IOC Operations’ office at Chandigarh, and and the office said the allotment of tenders were yet to be finalised.
However, in order to verify the cooperative’s claim, Newsclick spoke to some of the private contractors whose tenders were allegedly qualified.
One of them from Chandigarh — going against the IOC’s claim — told Newsclick that he was among those who had been awarded the tender. The private contractor said he had been given about a month to get his oil trucks ready for the transportation and distribution of the petroleum products from the Una terminal.
Back in Pekhubela village, the local transporters are planning to organise a huge protest demonstration — including blocking of the entry gates of the terminal — to let the IOC authorities, sitting in Chandigarh, know that this unjust action of the company shall not be accepted by them.