Mohammad Javed, 28, driver of a truck transporting LPG cylinders, has been trapped at the Hubli checkpoint since Tuesday afternoon without food, water or hope. The police stationed at the border would not allow him to cross because the locking of the COVID-19 must be strictly observed.
Javed is among some 500,000 drivers and aides left dry and across the state’s many borders, according to estimates from the Indian Transportation Research and Training Foundation (IFTRT). Trucks, even those transporting essential goods, are not allowed to move following government orders to close borders and checkpoints.
“I left Mangalore at 4 am today and have been at the Hubli border checkpoint for 1 pm. The police stationed here do not allow me to go ahead and they beat me when I ask them to let me go. They don’t even want to speak. I only survived on the water and it’s even over, ”he says, adding that there are at least 25 to 30 trucks loaded with LPG bottles that are abandoned in this area.
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Suresh Khosla, partner of the transport agency Shri Anand, which employs Javed, says he is in contact with the Federation of Bombay Road Transport Operators for the urgent release of the trucks. His business is in the transport of essential bulk goods, but it is a challenge to continue the business because all the entry points in Maharashtra have been closed due to a coronavirus, says Khosla.
“The biggest challenge we face is that with all the dhabas and restaurants closed, the drivers have no choice but to starve. The loading site provides food, but no dhabas are opened along the way, ”explains a person associated with the company.
With all auxiliary car workshops closed, vehicle repair is not possible and vehicles cannot be put back on the road. Not surprisingly, the drivers’ family members are worried and want them to go home.
Balmalkit Singh, president of the All Indian Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), believes that the movement of goods would be severely affected.
Meanwhile, there has been a ripple effect with the plight of the unfortunate drivers stranded at the borders reaching their colleagues. They are now refusing to show up for work, says Singh. “With no food or necessary infrastructure in sight, they don’t want to leave their homes.” The delays are also due to confusion over what is essential and what is not, he adds. “Everything is at a standstill,” he added.
“There is a large exodus of drivers from the loading points. They rush home. Some 250,000 to 300,000 drivers have already left for their country of origin after handing over the keys to their owners, ”explains SP Singh, senior fellow at IFTRT. All of these trucks carry valuable items and drivers cannot afford to leave them unattended. “We asked the government for a bailout. The owners are not able to help anyway. They (the drivers) face a lot of difficulties. Most of them are not on the payroll of carriers and have a minimum wage, ”Singh told Business Standard.
Following a rapid increase in coronavirus cases and the closure of the country, demand for all basic and essential products has hit the supply chain trap and manufacturers of various products are scrambling to keep pace.