The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm, disrupting industries and lives alike. While many people are able to ride out the storm from the comforts of their homes, the trucking community in India has no such privileges. Lack of food, unsafe working conditions and barely any support from the local administration, truck drivers in India are unwilling to get back to work, even after the government has issued certain relaxations on transportation of goods during the nationwide lockdown.
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As of now, even after the Home Ministry has revoked restrictions on trucks that are carrying food, medicine and other essential items, truckers are still facing issues when it comes to seamless travel, especially in case of inter-state movement. Officials on duty at national highways and border checkposts are still causing hindrance on the movement of trucks despite new regulations in place.
Another issue being faced by drivers is lack of essential services available on highways during their travels. Even though the government has issued guidelines to reopen utilities such as dhabas and repair shops on highways, truckers on the move still complain of these utilities being shut. With no food or rest stops in sight, delivering consignment for truckers becomes a nightmare when they have no help or labour available to load or unload goods.
The current scenario dictates that only 20% of the trucks in India are actually plying on the road, which is why the industry is in turmoil. Industry experts relay a multitude of reasons for the same: lack of drivers, trouble with local authorities or even halting of demand by industries in the country. As freight movement in the country has come to a standstill, so has the nation’s booming economy.
Truck drivers that are actually performing their duties during these times complain of abysmal delivery system that has percolated the industry. Delivery of cargo takes a much longer time than necessary, either because dhabas and repair shops are shut, labour is not available or they are accosted by the police in some instances.
Trucking associations in India have also shed light on one major factor leading to unavailability of drivers in the country during this time, which is the fear of contracting coronavirus while on the job, resulting in drivers moving back to their villages. As a consequence, freight movement has now become an expensive and time consuming endeavour, with logjams at ports and warehouses adding on to existing woes.
What is to come?
As part of the government’s contingency plan to get the wheels moving again for the transportation sector, insiders claim that the lockdown will be lifted in phases in different areas. While this will ease the movement for trucks, leading to an increased demand, drivers will still avoid going back to work.
Even if truckers are offered raises and other benefits, they would still be wary of getting behind the wheel again. Industries that are allied with the transportation sector have already started feeling the impact of movement of trucks coming to a standstill. The agriculture industry is one of the hardest hit sectors, where limited supply has eventually led to heightened prices of fruits and vegetables.
Transporters associations in the country fear that even after the lockdown is lifted, the transportation industry will take a long time to bounce back. Till the time that the backbone of the industry, i.e., the humble truck driver, is still working in limited capacity, the transportation sector has a bleak future ahead.