14 May 2020

Amid Migrant Exodus, Trucks Left Driverless

As number of operative trucks continues to fall thanks to migrants leaving, transport body says chain of essential supplies is bound to get affected.

With the government allowing and facilitating migrants' return to the native places, the transport industry has expressed concerns that the sector will experience loss of workers which will directly hit the supply chain of essential goods. Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, the number of active truck drivers has reduced considerably.

So far, 150 migrant trains bound for various destinations, have left the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

"Since April 20, when the government directed that the supply chain be resumed, there are 30 per cent less transport vehicles on the road. The few drivers who are still operating will also leave in the migrant trains. There may be only 20 per cent of the trucks left on the road when that happens, leaving transporters in a vulnerable position," said Mahendra Arya, national president of All India Transporters' Welfare Association (AITWA).

"The sudden lockdown compelled drivers to desert their trucks as they got stranded. Drivers need to be motivated to resume work through incentives such as government health insurance that covers their family," Arya said.

Give financial relief
The AITWA has raised the issue with various ministries. "A transporter has to pay five charges upfront just to run his truck — road tax, vehicle fitness charges, national permit fees, fast-tag top-ups and insurance premiums. These generate government revenue," Arya explained. Despite these payments, the truck owner will not get the assurance of decent business.

Arya said he had urged the finance ministry to consider a relief package for the road transport sector that includes truck owners and transporters. Certain issues that need immediate attention are EMI relief for six months, credit of salary/interest/rent as advance tax and roll-back of tax hike under Section 44E.

"Without the relief, several lakh truck owners and transporters will face huge financial pressure leading to a collapse," he added.

What drivers say
"We used to live in the trucks. With the lockdown, no trucks are allowed to ply unless they ferry essential products. There is unnecessary harassment by the authorities. We waited for quite a while and then decided to leave the city as it was becoming an issue of survival with no regular income," Raghu Kumar Yadav, who used to drive a lorry in Antop Hill said while boarding a train from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus at Kurla to Basti district in Uttar Pradesh.

"I used to drive a truck ferrying marble and granite sheets from Santacruz to retailers across eastern suburbs. All wholesalers and retailers are shut now. I am returning to Rajasthan," another driver, Motiram, said. He boarded the Vasai-Falna migrant special train.