Private jeeps and vans that mostly transport plantation labour to cardamom estates in Idukki district in Kerala broke journey at Cumbum Mettu check-post on Thursday in protest against “heavy-handed” action by Kerala transport officials in Nedunkandam over the past three days.

A large number of vehicles were stranded on the Cumbum Mettu Main Road on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border since morning, disrupting traffic for long hours.

Meanwhile, autorickshaw and private vehicle operators in Nedunkandam joined the protest and staged a demonstration before the Regional Transport Office.

The auto drivers alleged that the officials slapped heavy fines on them for overloading. The protestors did not allow any vehicle to operate, said local jeep operators.

Meanwhile, the Theni police and revenue officials rushed to the spot and persuaded vehicle operators from Tamil Nadu to withdraw their protest.

Later, over 70 jeeps and vans returned to Theni, carrying workers.

Kerala transport officials had advised all jeep and van operators from Tamil Nadu to obtain national permit to operate vehicles in the state.

About 1,000 jeeps and vans ply the Cumbum Mettu Road and Kumuli Highway every day, transporting 15,000 to 20,000 estate workers in Vandanmedu, Kattapanai, Udumbansolai and other areas in Idukki district.

With the opening of the Bodi Mettu Road, 400 vehicles operated on Thursday.

The number of vehicles going to Kerala has risen to 1,500 a day with the start of the cardamom plucking season, said S. Raja Manickam, manager, Kerala Cardamom Growers Association.

These vehicles were being operated on monthly contract. Stalling of private jeep operations would affect cardamom cultivation and threaten the survival of thousands of workers in Theni district, he pointed out.

If the jeep operators obtained national permit, they would have to restrict the number of passengers to five or seven depending on the vehicle capacity.

This would increase travel expenses and the workers would not choose private vehicles, said jeep operators.

Representatives of the Tamil Nadu Jeep and Van Operators Association handed a petition to Collector K.S. Palanisamy urging him to raise the issue with his counterpart in Idukki district.