Bucks From Trucks
By Jayashree Kini-Mendes
Transporters in India don’t have it easy. Besides having to grease palms at various checknakas, they are also subjected to constant harassment from ‘so-called officials’.
A couple of months ago, two truck drivers were found beheaded on a highway in North India. Witnesses told the police investigating the crime that they had last seen two police women quarreling and demanding money from the truck drivers. Probably, the drivers were beheaded because they could not cough up the money. The police are still looking into the case.
While this is an extreme case, it is true that truck drivers are subjected to constant humiliations and trials sometimes by the police who are supposed to protect their interests, and sometimes by roughnecks.
Navin Gupta, Secretary General, All India Motor Transport Congress, an apex body of transporters (both cargo and passenger), says, “Authorities and musclemen don’t need a reason to extort money out of drivers. All they need is to sight a loaded truck so they can demand money.”
It is a common sight to see trucks lined up at octroi posts and RTOs fishing out documents and money to hand over to officials who demand them. But little is known and spoken of truck drivers being stopped at certain routes by the henchmen of political parties who also demand their share of money. A manager with a large transportation company based out of Mangalore, who does not want to be named, says, “We give our drivers enough money to help them pay toll and for their personal expense. But most often their lunch money is usurped by hoodlums laying claim to certain sections of roads and highways.”
Coming to the issue of drivers being stopped by authorities, Mahesh Pai, owner of Sarayu Transport, says, “The people manning the octroi posts and RTOs waylay drivers on the pretext of checking documents, and out of pure habit point out emission levels, or accuse them of overloading. Unless money exchanges hands, they will not be allowed to pass.”
Citing the case of two industries (Sunflex and Lloyd Steel) based out of Nagpur, Mr. Gupta says, “We have heard that these two companies allow overloaded trucks to leave their compound. But they do make it a point to mention the excess weight on the papers. While the Nagpur RTO may allow them to pass, the problems arise when crossing other state borders.”
This leads to complaints from other truck drivers who carry under-loaded trucks and are stopped and have to shell out money. Especially at Jaipur, the officials are known to stop trucks that do not carry a Rajasthan plate number. Officials are also known to charge Rs 2,000-2,500 from the drivers, from the earlier Rs 1,000, confirms a source.
According to Mr. Gupta of AIMTC, “Drivers are not skilled to deal with authorities. They allow themselves to be bullied and willingly pay up. It is unfair that these authorities do not realize the role of the transportation industry. We carry crores of rupees of materials and are the first and last mile connectivity to various states.”
The associations are also piqued that while Railway wagons are exempt from any payments at state borders, trucks are hauled up even within states, leave alone state borders. The issue of paying toll is also nettling. Ravindra Hegde, Head of Transportation at Shrimad Transport, a company based in Chennai, says, “Every transportation company given to crossing borders frequently ends up paying around 25 percent of operating costs in toll. Besides this, the companies have to constantly put up with rising fuel costs, replacement of tires, increasing insurance, spare parts costs, salaries, etc. But we are not allowed to increase freight rates and pass them on to customers.”
Another sore point for the associations is the audacity of the concessionaires to start collecting toll even before the roads have been completed. Mr. Gupta, who has been highly active in taking this issue to the notice of the government says, “A build-operate-transfer (BOT) concession typically lasts for 25-30 years. The operators are ideally supposed to stop collecting toll once they have recovered their money. But they continue till the end of their time.”
The issues go on. But in all this, it is the transportation company and the truck drivers who suffer the most.