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Assam fuel workers call off boycott

Shillong, Aug. 16: The Assam Petroleum Mazdoor Union today called off its proposed boycott of supplying petroleum products to Meghalaya from Monday following an assurance by the Meghalaya government that safety and security would not be compromised.

The Hynniewtrep Petroleum Workers’ Union, however, has called a general strike of all vehicles carrying petroleum products on Monday demanding safety and security of petroleum workers in the state.

Following the killing of Bittu Patel, 24, a petrol pump worker, near Tura in West Garo Hills on August 12, the Assam Petroleum Mazdoor Union had threatened to block loading and unloading of petroleum products to Meghalaya from Monday onwards. The union was also disgruntled over alleged extortion along the Shillong bypass.

Today, after talks with officials of the Meghalaya government, the union, however, called off its proposed strike.

The general secretary of the union, Ramen Das, and other members met home minister Roshan Warjri, food and civil supplies minister Clement Marak, health minister A.L. Hek and some officials to discuss the union’s demands. The union wanted security at all petrol pumps, compensation to the next of kin of petrol pump workers killed in Meghalaya and arrest of perpetrators of crime, Das told reporters after the meeting. “The meeting was positive and from Monday we are withdrawing our proposed agitation,” he said.

According to Das, nearly 100 oil and gas tankers enter Meghalaya from Assam daily. From these, nearly 40 go to the strife-torn Garo hills. There are nearly 150 petrol pumps in the state, of which 35 are in the Garo hills region.

He also alleged that drivers of oil and gas tankers are asked to shell out money by goons along the Shillong bypass route. The range varies between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.

Warjri said the issues raised by the union were discussed at the meeting. However, the union leaders were specifically told that the government was not in a position to provide security to every petrol pump in the state.

The government, she said, has directed petrol pump owners to install CCTVs at their pumps. The deputy commissioners of all the 11 districts have been asked to coordinate with petrol pump owners on CCTV installation.

The brutal killing on August 12 was captured on CCTVs installed at the petrol pump. The footage has ever since gone viral.

Warjri said the petrol pump owners would be requested to keep private security guards while assuring that police patrol would be intensified, especially in the Garo hills. She said the police were investigating all incidents pertaining to the killing of petrol pump workers and promised stern action against goons.

Petrol pump owners would be asked to insure all their workers.

On the demand made by the Hynniewtrep Petroleum Workers’ Union for setting up oil depots and bottling plants in Shillong and Tura to avoid disruption of supplies of LGP, petrol and diesel within the state, Marak said these would be considered by the government. The union reminded that an oil depot of the Indian Oil Corporation at Pyllun village near Umroi in Ri Bhoi district has been non-functional since 2010. The depot was made operational in 1992.

“The government should take the initiative by directing the company to reopen the depot as is the case with other depots in Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and others. Our state has the maximum border stretch with Bangladesh. An oil depot is a necessity considering the vulnerability of the state,” the union said in a statement.