Livelihood: on the go

Govind Raje delivers garlic from Latur to Chennai

By Ashish Tiwari

Not that Govind Raje, 34, doesn’t mind a good 6-hour sleep. But, in order to make a couple of thousands of rupees more he has to leave now and drive for a straight 19 hours; not counting in the quick nap and food break, which will be filled by his brother-in-law and second driver. 

“We generally shift between day and night, driving around 400-450 km in a day,” said Raje, a truck driver. For all these troubles he clears about Rs 10,000- Rs 12,000 for one trip. And the extra thousand depends upon how fast a driver is able to drop the load and go to the next pick-up station, explained Raje.

A study of, 1217 truck drivers, by Marketing and Development Research Associates; found that, on average, respondents drive for about 12 hours a day. Almost half reported driving continuously, through fatigued and sleep.

Overall, one in five respondents admitted to taking some kind of drug during trips. The proportion of such respondents was highest in Kolkata, followed by Kanpur and Delhi NCR. In all three cities, over half of the respondents confirmed driving under the influence of drugs.

Some 9 million trucks that run on India’s highways (around 1,15,400 kilometres) serve a $160 billion logistics industry. Road freight transport contributes about 4.5% of the GDP. According to a report published by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), roads carry roughly 67% of the freight volume in India.

Freight transport contribution

From moving daily needs items to industrial goods, truck drivers play a pivotal role in everybody’s life. However, truck drivers face high exposure to risk. As per the MoRTH, over 15,000, truck and lorry users died in road crashes on Indian roads in 2018.

Mustafa, Jahid’s second driver, gets a quick nap while Jahid gets the billing work done

Jahid Pradhan’s last resort, the Piplia Mandi union, was of no use, on which they usually relied. It was unable to garner any funds (for the pandemic relief) from the local government. “I don’t think unions are of any use these days, especially after the virus struck,” said Pradhan. “Many of my friends quit this trucking business and had to turn to daily wage labouring as a means of earnings”

The Pandemic had forced India to restrict the movement of goods across government-defined zones and across states, which led to fewer trucks or lorries being used. 

Meanwhile, a shortage of drivers raised truck-rental costs by as much as 74 percent.

According to the ‘All India Motor Transport Congress,’ an umbrella body of goods-vehicle operators representing about 10 million truckers, the daily movement of trucks collapsed to less than 10% of normal levels.

“Truckers are unwilling to work because of harassment by the police over lack of clarity on what goods were permitted to be transported,” said Abhijit Sen, a former member of the planning commission. 

According to the findings of the report, 40.2% of drivers were dissatisfied with their jobs due to the harassment by police/RTO officials and local groups during trips. 

Another casualty of this issue is the delay in the transport of the farm produce, which eventually leads to a rise in prices. 

On the budget front, road transport has been chosen as one of the seven engines in the PM GatiShakti plan for multimodal connectivity. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman spelled out plans for the same to spur the logistics infrastructure. 

The plan has received its first outlay of Rs 20,000 crore for 2022-23.