HYDERABAD: Lorry owners in the state seem to be up in arms against the authorities as they are allegedly being harassed by officials of various government departments in the process of paddy procurement from farmers.
According to the Telangana Lorry Owners Association, their vehicles were forcibly engaged in transporting paddy from market yards to rice mills by officials of revenue, civil supplies, transport and police departments.
Accusing the authorities of arm-twisting, the association said it had submitted several representations to civil supplies, agriculture and transport ministers, but no help was extended to lorry owners, or owner-cum-drivers on this front.
The owners are paid Rs 180 to Rs 500 per tonne of paddy as transportation costs, depending on the distance from the market yards to the rice mills, which they say is arbitrary and does not reflect the real cost of hiring lorries. The problem faced by lorry owners is particularly high in Warangal, Khammam, Nalgonda, Medak, Mahbubnagar and Nizamabad districts, it is learnt.
In many instances, lorries, once they reach rice mills, are made to wait for up to five days to a week for the paddy to be unloaded. The price fixed by the authorities is just about half of the actual transportation costs and the forced waits are leading to loss of earnings. Diesel price was hiked around 25 times since the first lockdown and its price per litre that was Rs 67 in March 2020, is now nearly Rs 96 a litre, a lorry owner said.
Sama Madhav Reddy, a lorry owner-cum-driver, was frustrated enough to attempt to set himself on fire by pouring petrol over himself but was stopped by other drivers. “My lorry has been engaged in making trips from April first week to June 15. If we do not agree to carry the paddy, government officers threaten us with seizing our vehicles. Once we agree, there is no clue when we may return home for a break,” he said.
He added, “The diesel price is high, there is no revision on pay, no extra money for halting. So far, I have made 10 such trips this season. It is not just the trip costs and our own costs of food and shelter. There are EMIs to be paid along with the vehicle maintenance costs.”
According to Manchireddy Rajender Reddy, Telangana Lorry Owners Association president, “Our lorries are forcibly engaged in transporting paddy to an assigned mill. There are 1.7 lakh lorries in Telangana. Of these, 30% are engaged in transporting sand. The maintenance costs of each lorry, which is around Rs 40 lakh, are enormous. In addition to physical maintenance costs, around Rs 13,000 are spent a month on road tax and insurance, and Rs 30,000 a month for wages of the driver and cleaner. And then there is nearly Rs 1 lakh EMI that most lorry owners pay.”
Meanwhile, rice mill owners alleged the absence of planning was leading to problems.
Venkateshwar Rao, proprietor of Modern Rice Mills, Chityal, Nalgonda district, said lack of coordination between government agencies and the Food Corporation of India, was costing everyone. “Paddy is sent to the mills without any assessment of how the mill is placed in terms of storage. Fresh paddy bags keep arriving even before the milled rice is dispatched, our warehouses are already full. Where can we keep the fresh paddy arrivals? That has to stay in the lorries,” he said.