Now, dotting India’s highways are abandoned trucks

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on March 30, 2020 Published on March 30, 2020

In the last few days there have been a number of instances of alleged harassment of truck drivers by police across the country.   -  Rajendra Gawankar

Drivers flee back home fearing police action and infection; bringing the vehicles back may pose a problem for truckers

A major problem has emerged on highways across India, with thousands of drivers abandoning trucks loaded with cargo and heading home amid the lockdown.

On the one hand, the drivers fear harassment by the police for being on the road during the lockdown. On the other, their families were pressuring them to return home for fear of catching the infection. Compounding their problem is the lack of basic amenities such as food and water on the the highways.

In the last few days there have been a number of instances of alleged harassment of truck drivers by police across the country. Some were beaten severely. This has forced many to abandon their vehicles on the highways, say truck owners.

While most States now allow goods vehicles across borders, the drivers are still worried about harassment, said P Sundarraj, Managing Director of Tiruchirapalli-based Subham Freight Carriers India Pvt Ltd. “Nearly 50 of my vehicles have been abandoned in places like Nippani (Karnataka) and Gurugram (Haryana),” he told BusinessLine. He quoted a fleet operator in Namakkal as saying nearly 50 of his drivers from Tamil Nadu wanted to abandon their vehicles in Assam and return home.

“We are sympathetic towards the drivers and have asked them to park the vehicles at a safe place,” said Sundarraj. “Most of our drivers are from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. They want to leave the vehicles and flee by another truck to their hometowns. When the situation returns to normal, the challenge will be to mobilise drivers to bring back the vehicles,” he added.

It is a similar situation for Bengaluru-based Bindya Cargo Pvt Ltd. “Nearly 40 trucks of ours have been abandoned at Nippani and Gurugram,” said R Ravishankar, the company’s Managing Director.

Safe havens

Bal Malkit Singh of Mumbai-based Bal Roadlines also said drivers are abandoning their vehicles and trying to reach safer hideouts with basic amenities before heading home to be with their families. Many are refusing to take the wheel, put off by the experience of the four-five days since the lockdown began. Nearly 30 have managed to go to their hometowns, he added.

“We have also voluntarily asked drivers to go to safe hideouts. Our first priority is safety. We are trying to educate them not to travel as this will spread the coronavirus and the purpose of lockdown will get defeated,” he said.

All India Motor Transport Congress President Kultaran Singh Atwal concurred that because of the total ban on movement of empty vehicles and those carrying non-essential goods, the majority of drivers have headed home. Being stranded on highways for days, bereft of food, water and safety, had left them panicking, he added..

This could lead to a paucity of drivers and vehicles for carrying essential goods, said Atwal. Immediate solutions have to be worked out to restore their confidence and provide an facilitating environment, at least for those who are carrying essential commodities, he added.

Published on March 30, 2020

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