T he four-hour notice announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 March, that locked down the country, resulted in a singular outcome for the Indian road freight transportation sector (comprising of more than 10 million vehicles): chaos like never before.
Thousands of long-haul drivers found themselves stranded at different locations, with some abandoning their vehicles and leaving for homes. With highway dhabas shut, even available drivers started to find it difficult to keep the vehicles moving.
“Transportation of essential items was allowed, but only 2 to 3 per cent of the vehicles plying on Indian roads would operate after the lockdown was imposed,” says Sachin Haritash, CEO, Mavyn, a digital platform that connects truckers with end-users.
In a unique case of solidarity between truckers' associations and leading companies like Eicher Trucks and CEAT, a formula to provide relief to truck drivers seems to have done well on the ground.
“For the drivers accessing meals was a major issue. So with a collection of around Rs30 lakh from our own members, we began providing meals to drivers at a strategically important spot on highways connecting Mumbai. We soon began getting support from major corporate houses and local transport associations and extended this service to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and near Delhi. At peak we supplied about 70,000 meals a day,” explains Mahendra Arya, President, All India Transport Welfare Association (AITWA).
A leading pan-India association of transporters in the country, AITWA has initiated a programme called ‘Highways Heroes’ which aims to provide dignity to the lives of millions of truck drivers in the country with support from the government and other stakeholders.
According to Arya, dhabas have gradually started to open on the highways again. So the focus of the association, and the agencies supporting it, has shifted to initiatives like sanitisation of the vehicles. The support line extended by companies like CEAT and Eicher has broadened the scope of services.
he four-hour notice announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 March, that locked down the country, resulted in a singular outcome for the Indian road freight transportation sector (comprising of more than 10 million vehicles): chaos like never before.