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With no food or hope, truckers stranded at borders across the country

By Shally Seth Mohile
March 26, 2020 21:45 IST
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Some 500,000 drivers and helpers have been left high and dry because of lockdown; many of these trucks are carrying essential goods.

Twenty eight-year-old Mohammad Javed, driver of a truck carrying LPG cylinders, has been stranded at the Hubli checkpost since Tuesday afternoon without food, water or any hope.

The policemen posted at the border would not allow him to cross over as the COVID-19 lockdown is to be followed stringently.

 

Javed is among some 500,000 drivers and helpers left high and dry across the many state borders, estimates made by the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT) suggest.

Trucks, even the ones carrying essential goods, are not being allowed to move following the government orders to seal the borders and check posts.

“I started from Mangalore at 4 am today and have been at the border check post of Hubli since 1 pm.

"The police officers stationed here are not allowing me to go ahead and they thrash me when I request them to let me go.

"They are not even willing to talk. I have been surviving only on water and even that is over,” he says, adding there are at least 25 to 30 trucks loaded with LPG cylinders which are marooned in that area.

Suresh Khosla, partner at Shri Anand Transport Agency, which employs Javed, says he’s in touch with the Federation of Bombay Motor Transport Operators for the release of the trucks on an urgent basis.

His company is into transporting essential bulk commodities, but it’s a challenge to continue with the business as all entry points to Maharashtra have been shut due to coronavirus,  Khosla points out.

“The biggest challenge we are facing is with all the dhabas and restaurants being shut, the drivers have no option but to starve.

"The loading location provides food but enroute no dhabas are open,” says a person associated with the business.

With all the ancillary automobile shops being shut, vehicle repair is not possible and one cannot get the vehicles back on the road. Not surprisingly, the family members of the drivers are concerned and want them home.

Balmalkit Singh, chairman of All Indian Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), believes the movement of goods would be severely impacted.

Meanwhile, there’s been a ripple effect with the plight of the hapless drivers stuck at the borders reaching their co-workers.

They are now refusing to report to work, says Singh.

“With no food or requisite infrastructure in sight, they don’t want to leave home.”

The delays are also because of the confusion regarding what is essential and what’s non-essential, he adds.

“Everything has come to a standstill,” he added.

“There is a large exodus of drivers from the loading points. They are rushing home.

"Some 250,000 to 300,000 drivers have already left for their native places after handing over the keys to their owners,” says SP Singh, senior fellow at IFTRT.

All these trucks are carrying high-value items and the drivers cannot afford to leave them unattended.

“We have been asking the government for a bailout package. Owners are not able to help in anyway. They (drivers) are facing a lot of hardship.

"Most of them are not on the payrolls of the transporters and are on minimum wages,” Singh tells Business Standard.

Following a rapid rise in the coronavirus cases and the countrywide lockdown, demand for all staples and essentials has hit the supply chain snag and manufacturers of various goods are scrambling to keep pace.

Photograph: Reuters

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Shally Seth Mohile in Mumbai
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