One in every three trucks in the country is overloaded and they are to blame for 50 per cent of road accidents, surveys by the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training have found.
Around three-fourths of the annual Rs 550 billion loss from road accidents was attributed to the unorganised truck transport industry. The foundation said over 92,500 people were killed each year in road accidents in the country coming under the wheels of the overloaded vehicles. Delhi leads the metro casualty count.
Most trucks were found overloaded by 25-50 per cent.
Senior fellow and coordinator of the foundation, S.P. Singh, said: “When a truck is overloaded by 10 per cent, its steering and brake control is reduced by 50 and 40 per cent, respectively. Overloading also reduces the productive life of the road by 80 per cent and the productive life of the truck by 30 per cent.”
But small-time operators and middlemen who run the majority of the country’s trucks consider overloading a necessary evil. Part of the problem is the industry’s skewed ownership pattern that makes accountability difficult.
K.L. Thukral of the Asian Institute of Transport Development said the industry was responsible for 70 per cent of all goods movement and as a result enjoyed significant political clout.
Around 5,000 cargo operators control the freight movement and only in about 2-3 per cent of the cases do customers access the truck owners directly to book for their goods.
S. Sriram, the professor of Transport Economics at Mumbai University, attributed the ownership structure to low capital requirements, easily available truck driving licenses, and easy availability of freight.
He said the operators regularly loaded their trucks beyond the permissible axle load to maximise each vehicle’s earnings and the consignors of bulk commodities, like fertilisers, steel and cement, overloaded the vehicles in order to get freight service cheap.
Hence the Motor Vehicle Act 1988 banning overloading has no effect on the road.
While some states have almost legalised overloading by issuing formal permits, illicit payments mostly clear the way for the vehicles.
For example, a 2005 World Bank study found overloading so common that truckers paid as much as 10 per cent of their freight revenue to facilitate passage for the overloaded vehicles.
Singh argued that the problem did not lie in failing to detect overloading, as the type and weight of the cargo is stated in all documents accompanying the cargo.
The problem lay in the lack of implementation of the Motor Vehicles Act. As an example, Singh mentioned the over 260 computerised weighbridges which has not stopped trucks in the capital from getting overloaded.
Another problem, pointed out by the World Bank report on Road Transport Service Efficiency was that although India’s legal single axle load limit is now 10.2 tonnes, most highways support the previous legal limit of 8.16 tonnes. Strengthening older roads to meet the new load limit would require Rs 300 billion, the report said.