In dire straits, truckers demand relief package from govt

With lockdowns striking a hard blow, road transport firms are facing a double whammy of lower tariffs and low business volumes

To add to their woes, truck drivers, helpers and loaders are getting affected in large numbers due to increasing COVID-19 infection as well

With business dwindling and rentals sliding, truckers have rushed to the government with a package of demands to save their enterprises. This follows the severe blow that road freight business has suffered in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 wave that has led to lockdowns in Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, Odissa and Kerala, besides restrictions in a number of states including Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.

According to S P Singh, Senior Fellow and Coordinator at the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT), truck rentals have declined up to 27 per cent in the past one month. From the beginning of April to the beginning of May, rentals have declined in the range of 18 per cent to 27 per cent in key routes, he told The Federal.

For example, the tariff for a round trip between Delhi and Mumbai has dropped to ₹1,05,000 during the first week of May, as compared to ₹1,35,000 in the beginning of April. The 23 per cent decline on this route is on account of the slump in demand, due to lockdown and several restrictions imposed by several state governments.

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Arrival of fruits and vegetables to mandis through trucks have declined by 10 per cent to 15 per cent, while demand from the manufacturing sector is estimated to have declined almost 35 per cent, according to the Delhi-based IFTRT. As COVID-19 infection numbers continue to be high, the worrisome trends are not expected to decline in the immediate future.

At the same time, diesel prices have started creeping up after a breather ahead of the assembly elections in five states. Other costs have also been surging and this is squeezing truck operators, whose businesses are yet to revive after last year’s lockdown had left a lasting impact.

Therefore, road transport companies have demanded moratorium on EMI (equated monthly instalments) payments and soft loans from banks without collateral to tide over the current crisis. The All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) has demanded that seizure of trucks due to EMI defaults should be halted and NPA norms should be tweaked.

Toll must be waived off for goods transport vehicles and taxes should be kept in abeyance, they have demanded. The industry is in dire straits, according to Kultaran Singh Atwal, president of the association. While we are trying to provide all support to quicker transportation of oxygen, essential drugs and other COVID-19 treatment items, the transport sector also needs oxygen for survival, the Delhi-based organisation has explained to the government.

Road freight rates for a round trip on the Delhi-Nagpur route have declined by 21 per cent to ₹85,000 now, as compared to ₹1,07,500 a month ago. Similarly, the rate of Delhi-Kolkata now is around ₹84,000 as compared to ₹1,40,000 at the beginning of April.

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The tariff for Delhi-Chennai has declined to ₹1,30,000 at the beginning of May, as compared to ₹1,55,000 at the beginning of the previous month. In the Delhi-Hyderabad sector, the tariff has come down from ₹1,45,000 to ₹1,15,000. In the Delhi-Guwahati sector, the current rate is around ₹1,35,000 as compared to ₹1,70,000 during the first week of April, according to IFTRT data. Delhi-Bangalore tariff stands at ₹1,32,500 as compared to ₹1,63,800 a month ago.

The sharp decline within a month has rattled truckers who fear that diesel prices might go up further since international crude rates are firm. Already 40 per cent of the capacity is idling and truckers are facing a financial crisis, according to IFTRT.

To add to their woes, truck drivers, helpers and loaders are getting affected in large numbers due to increasing COVID-19 infection. AIMTC has demanded that they should be given priority in vaccination and camps should be organised at convenient locations like fuel pumps. Atwal has also emphasised that drivers, helpers and loaders should be given COVID insurance as they face higher risk.

AIMTC has also demanded that the policy of scrapping ageing vehicles should be kept on hold for the time being and validity of documents like driving licence should be extended. The governing council of the industry association met on Tuesday (May 4) to discuss the current situation and decided to demand a relief package from the government. Pressure from lenders for vehicle seizure due to EMI default is leading to anxiety and heartburn, the association stressed.

So far the Union Transport Ministry has not indicated that immediate relief will be provided to truckers, but consultations are expected soon. “Government has not come out with a package for small fleet owners in calamity. This is affecting livelihood of truckers at mass level,” lamented Singh.

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