Stranded near State borders, truck drivers struggle for food and water

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on March 27, 2020 Published on March 27, 2020

Truck drivers served food on a highway at Solapur, Maharashtra

The closure of dhabas along the highways — a lifeline for truckers — due to the lock-down has left truck drivers and cleaners starving as thousands of vehicles are stranded at State borders. Some are relying on good Samaritans, and companies such as Tata Motors and Indian Oil Corporation, to provide them with food.

Truck driver Pankaj Khursheed is stuck at Mahol near Solapur in Maharashtra for the past few days. “We plead to the government to allow trucks to enter the State and give us basic needs like food and water,” he said in a video message, in which drivers from various parts of the country spoke of the pathetic condition they are in. It is a similar situation for driver Manickam from Tamil Nadu, who, along with several others, is waiting at Rangampet in Chitoor district.

Truck drivers are frantically trying to reach out to their owners. Truck associations, including the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), have sought help from the Centre and States to ensure that drivers and cleaners are provided with food and water. But, no swift action so far, say truckers.

Corporates to the rescue

Rajinder Singh Bhasin, Managing Director of Chennai-based Janata Roadways, said that his truck is stranded in Mahol. As the dhabas are closed, his son Manavdeep Singh and a few friends from Mumbai managed to arrange food and water for the crew with the help of Tata Motors.

IndianOil is also pitching in with food and water. The company’s regional office is Kanpur is also offering rice and atta so that the truck crew can cook for themselves, said Singh.

Similar arrangements have been made at United Fuel Services near Manor on NH-8 in Maharashtra Palghar; Shrivandan Service Station, Sayne Khurde in Malegaon at Nashik district on NH-3; and Dhami Petroleum, Sastapur, Bidar district of Karnataka on NH-65. Some of the fuel stations are also providing lunch packets to the truck crew, said Singh.

“Unfortunately, some of the dhabas are fleecing the truckers by charging ₹20 per roti, which is nearly four times the normal cost,” he added.

B Satyanarayana, proprietor of New Vijaya Lakshmi Transport, Visakhapatnam, said his trucks are stranded at Anandapuram junction and Gajuwaka area of Visakhapatnam. It is a bad situation across the country, he said, adding: “The loss is nearly ₹5,000 every day per vehicle.”

Little relief

There is no relief forthcoming from the government to the road transport fraternity, which is hit hard by the lock-down. There have been consistent distress calls from the drivers who are held up on the highways, away from their homes without food, water and money, said AIMTC President Kultaran Singh Atwal.

“The coronavirus will come later but before that the hunger will take a toll. There is a grave humanitarian crisis in the making unless prudent steps are taken to allow the trucks to reach their destination,” he added.

Realising the gravity of the situation, the Odisha government issued an order on March 25 to ensure smooth functioning of the dhabas on the highways. Every 20 km a dhaba and vehicle repair shop are located. Highway patrol will ensure that there is no congregation at any particular dhaba, says an order issued by the State’s Department of Water Resources.

The government has also set up a helpline — 0674 2620200 — for drivers and cleaners of goods transport vehicles for any guidance or remedial action.

The Assam government, in an order, said two dhabas at Chariali and Lahoal have been selected to serve truck drivers who are engaged in carrying essential food and civil supply materials.

Published on March 27, 2020

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