Covid-19 fallout: Truck movements yet to normalise

Manpower shortage apart, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are battling supply chain glitches following the Covid-19-induced lockdown in India. But 20 days into the lockdown, movement of trucks continues to be an issue.

Market sources, including FMCG majors, point out that vehicular movement “still” remains affected, severely impacting supplies, both at the manufacturing and retail ends. Goods vehicles / carriers remain stuck along state borders or on highways.

“There is not enough coordination between state-level authorities regarding essential transport,” Kartik Johari, Vice President, Nobel Hygiene, said. Nobel Hygiene makes the ‘Friends’ brand of adult diapers.

According to major transport operators in West Bengal, between two lakh and three lakh trucks ply on the highways in the state on any given day. This includes vehicles entering or exiting and those on the roads.

However, since the lockdown, not more than 20,000-25,000 trucks are plying daily. Nearly 50,000 vehicles (including those with national permit) remain stuck across different border areas and depots, or are stranded on the highways.

Nationally, around one lakh trucks are said to be stuck across state borders, say sources.

“Yes, problems in truck movements persist, and it will still take another two to five days for normalcy to return. We are coordinating with the police and calling up different transport associations to simplify the process of obtaining passes or releasing vehicles that are stuck at state borders or midway (under a particular administrative district),” Prabir Chatterjee, Secretary, Federation of West Bengal Truck Operators Association, told.

Operators says over the first two weeks, not more that 10,000 trucks were on the roads. Most had been left midway by drivers and helpers.

Far from normal

The situation is far from normal. A company can get an e-pass and ensure movement of goods. But, what happens to the previous consignments that do not have these passes, representatives of different FMCG majors who are trying to clear these stuck vehicles, ask. Releasing them or getting permission for their movement is a Herculean task, they say.

According to Shahrukh Khan, Director – Operations, Dabur India, difficulties exist in the smooth functioning of the supply chain, despite steps taken by the central and state governments to ease truck movements.

“The situation is far from normal. Companies are facing difficulties, both in servicing domestic demand and (also in) meeting export commitments,” he said.

Operators say truck movement was first hit when states announced their own containment measures. Vehicles carrying non-essential items got stuck. Some movement was still being managed at the grassroots. But the national lockdown brought things to a halt.

It was always clear that vehicles carrying “essentials” will be allowed movement. But the definition of essentials varied at local administration levels. This led to hindrance in movement.

More clarity in rules

Meanwhile, Ajay Bhalla, Union Home Secretary, in an April 12 letter to the Chief Secretaries of all States, raised the issues of “trucks carrying essentials and non-essentials being detained”, workers needed for manufacturing operations not getting passes, and inter-state movement of goods getting hampered, among others.

Accordingly, the ministry clarified and reiterated some previous guidelines. These include that inter- and intra-state movement of “all trucks and other goods / carrier vehicles” be allowed with “one driver and one additional person, irrespective of the nature of the cargo”, and no further permits are required. Empty trucks have also been allowed to pick up goods after completing a delivery / on their way back.

Further, local authorities should facilitate movement of truck drivers, cleaners, workers to their respective places of work. Passes are to be issued “expeditiously” by the local authorities. These stipulations are to be followed in all areas except those requiring containment, surveillance (hotspots) and quarantine measures.