Truck drivers on the highways are now facing a double whammy – fear of Covid-19 and theft.
Rakesh (name changed to protect identity), a 50-year old truck driver from Uttar Pradesh, who drove from Delhi recently to drop off cargo in the East, would have been back home by now — if his truck carrying medicines were not hijacked, he not beaten up, and if the pending police investigation would not have prevented him from heading back. He is now stuck in West Bengal, waiting for the police investigation to be over, facing another danger as novel coronavirus spreads wider.
This may be a one-off heist that has come to light, but in general, transporters have become careful now, says Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT), transport tracking body. “Desperate times push people to take desperate measures. Given the present challenges, trucks drivers move in groups, avoid travelling at night and also choose dhabas carefully,” said SP Singh, Senior Fellow, IFTRT.
There are instances of loot and theft of trucks even as the drivers and truck community get infected by a coronavirus, said All India Motor Transport Congress’s (AIMTC) Secretary-General Navin Gupta. The most vulnerable sections of drivers and labourers have become carriers of coronavirus, AIMTC has said as it reiterated the need to have ₹50 lakh insurance for drivers. AIMTC is aware of several cases of community transmission in the transporter community.
Mahendra Arya, National President, All India Transporters Welfares Association (AITWA) has asked all corporates and industries to care for drivers by providing security for their loaded trucks and not making them wait in scorching heat now that road transport sector has recovered to 40 per cent of business after lockdown.
On the heist that has happened near Kolkata, Mukesh Bhatia, who owns the truck, told when contacted, “The driver (who is now with the police) has been employed with me for last 25 years. In the last 35 years, I have operated trucks on the Delhi-Kolkata route and never have any products been stolen.”
“As the truck had GPS, we were able to track the truck back in five hours. However, all the cartons were stolen by then,” Bhatia said, adding that he was able to speak to the driver on Saturday. Bhatia is now waiting for his container truck and driver to return, which is possible after the enquiry is over.
OM Logistics, the bigger transport company who had hired the truck, has already taken up the issue with police in Murshidabad. On when the driver can get back home, OM Logistics’ Gupta declined to comment stating that it would depend on when the investigation would be complete.
“Though all precautions were taken, we will have to be much more careful in future, especially with high-value full load cargo. For us, a big challenge is containing trust of customers,” Gupta said, whose clients include many multinationals.