June 9: Owners of tankers transporting petroleum products from the Haldia terminal of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) went on a flash strike today, disrupting supply of petrol, diesel and furnace oil to many parts of Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand.
Accompanied by at least 300 drivers and helpers, the tanker owners laid siege to the main gate of the terminal this morning. They demanded cancellation of a work order issued by the PSU oil company to a group from Mumbai.
BPCL had in February inducted six contractors for lifting furnace oil, used in factories for heating purposes. The selections were made after an online tender was floated by the oil company last year and the new contractors replaced some of the local tanker owners who did not participate in the process.
“We signed the contract on February 6 this year. Since then, we have been trying to start work but the local contractors are preventing us. We moved Calcutta High Court in March seeking help from police and the administration. The court passed an order on May 7 asking the police to give us protection. We were escorted to work by the police but even then we could not lift the material,” a representative of the Mumbai-based tanker owners said.
Malay Karan, a tanker owner who is also associated with the Trinamul Congress-backed Bharat Petroleum (Patikhali) Driver, Helper, Worker, Security Shramik Union, declined comment although he was at the forefront of the agitation.
Seikh Zahid, a driver demonstrating at the BPCL terminal gate, said: “We have been working here for the past 15 years. Contractors can be changed but we must get jobs.”
Sandip Das, a tanker owner, said BPCL had assured them that local players would get jobs through negotiation and not tender.
“We have been demanding higher rates. The company promised to look into the matter. But they floated an online tender instead at a lower rate. So we did not participate. Tomorrow, a meeting has been called at the regional office in Calcutta by the BPCL management,” Das said.
The Mumbai contractors have brought 26 tankers at Haldia, employing 52 people from across the country. BPCL will pay the Mumbai firms Rs 1.57 per kilo litre per kilometre. The local players have around 150 tankers and employ about 500 people.
Trinamul MP Subhendu Adhikari distanced himself from the agitation.
“The party is not involved. Anyone can carry the flag but that does not mean the party is supporting this. It is a conflict between two groups of contractors,” he said.