Beyond green ban: Perils of life in Asia's largest truck pit
Pollution is not the only worry on the minds of thousands of transporters, drivers, truck artists, mechanics and sex workers in the Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar. Crime and HIV/AIDS are bigger killersdelhi Updated: May 29, 2015 08:29 IST
For about 2,500 transporters in the Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, arguably Asia’s biggest transport hub in outer Delhi, Gunjeet Singh Sangha’s name has been nothing short of an insurance. He says his name ‘Sangha’--- it is painted in white bold letters on about 10,000 trucks--- ensures no problems with the traffic police or the transport department. He gets hundreds of calls for help from other transporters and drivers and the requests are always granted.
However, for the past couple of weeks he spends most of the time over the phone soothing frayed nerves in the wake of the National Green Tribunal’s order to ban10-year-old diesel vehicles.
“It is not the police they are worried about these days. They fear that their trucks will be impounded and scrapped,” says Singh, who drove a truck for two decades before he became a transporter.
“It is not an easy task. This place is an area of darkness,” says Singh.
Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, arguably Asia’s biggest transport hub in outer Delhi. (Saumya Khandelwal/ HT Photo)
It takes a trucker’s resolve to survive in this transport hub. It is home to thousands of truck drivers, sex workers, gamblers, workshops and truck artists. The roads here are nothing but crater- ridden dust tracks; the gutters overflow and mounds of garbage can be spotted at every street corner. The roads are lined with ramshackle shops selling old and new tyres, canvass and tarpaulin to cover the trucks, and several beer shops. Most walls are painted with slogans promoting the use of condoms. In fact, about 10,000 condoms are picked out daily from boxes that have been put up at several shops.
Those who work here too don’t have a high opinion of the place. "It is a dangerous place to work; it is a den of criminals and prostitutes. The authorities have turned a blind eye to the pathetic condition of the place and the murky goings-on here," says an auto parts dealer, who did not share his name out of fear of transport associations.
But Kultaran Singh Atwal, chairman of the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMT), agrees with the description of the place.
Atwals’ plush office is in stark contrast with the dirt and decadence that pervades the area. He comes from a family of transporters who had started as drivers and then grew on to own and run their own businesses. He says the issue is not just polluting vehicles but also the livelihood of two lakh families.
Men working on a truck. (Saumya Khandelwal/ HT Photo)
“If the NGT persists with the ban, 50,000 trucks in Delhi and NCR will go off the roads, affecting over 2 lakh families. A lot of people here are drivers-turned transporters with just one or two trucks. It is not possible for them to buy new trucks. A new truck costs nothing less than Rs. 25 lakh,” says suave and soft-spoken Atwal sitting behind a large wooden desk with a MacBook Air and a replica of the Golden Temple resting on a side table.
Atwal says that more than the age of the vehicle, overloading is responsible for pollution.
“A 15-tonne capacity truck is loaded with at least 50-tonnes of goods. This increases emissions. The corrupt transport authorities and the police allow this for money. Such trucks should be impounded,” he says.
Atwal says the government must expedite work on the Kundli-Manesar–Palwal (KMP) expressway so that trucks do not enter Delhi at all.
“Transport system of a country forms the backbone of economic growth. Transporters have to pay all taxes in advance but what do we get in return? Transport Nagar is one of the capital’s filthiest and most crime-infested areas. Incidents of loot and robbery are reported almost every day,” says Atwal.
At least 8,000 drivers are there in Transport Nagar on any given day. Most of them are from Haryana, UP, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh. But it was not the case until a decade ago when most drivers were from Punjab especially from Gurdaspur and Kapurthala districts.
About 10, 000 condoms are sold every day at Transport Nagar. (Manoj Sharma/HT Photo)
"Hundreds of drivers died of AIDS in mid-1990s, and therefore most young people gave up the profession. Now only a handful comes from Punjab," said Ranjeet Singh, a driver from Punjab.
"Besides, the profession has no respect and dignity. We are humiliated every day. The police beat us and abuse us. We don’t get to meet our families for months. Nobody leads a more miserable existence than us," said Ranjeet.
The threat of sexually transmitted disease (STD) is still alarming. Several NGOs work in Transport Nagar with drivers and sex workers.
"The community (truckers) continues to be at a high risk of HIV infection. They stay away from home for months. There is still a high prevalence of unsafe sex and drug addiction among them," says Amit Ranjan Chaudhary, who heads a programme ‘Targeted Intervention’ launched by CSR wing of Apollo Tyres in Transport Nagar.
The Apollo health care centre ---- its entrance has a plastic box fitted on the wall which has condoms for free distribution—is visited by 30 people every day. The clinic has distributed small white boxes with messages on safe sex printed on them to various roadside dhabas, paan shops, etc to keep condoms for sale. Chaudhary says about 10, 000 condoms are sold every day here.
For those who complain about daily rigours of a job, Rakesh Yadav has a de-stressing fact to share. Yadav, a native of Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh, says he drove about 1400 Km in 28 hours, as he watches a Mithun Chakraborty movie with a dozen drivers in a small first-floor one-room office of a transporter.
He has just returned from Kolkata. "If you are brining fruits and vegetables, you cannot afford to be late. So I keep driving throughout the night. It is bukki (poppy straw) that helps me keep awake," he says.
"And then the love of Anita keeps me going. I am looking forward to meeting her tonight," says the driver. Anita, he tells you, is a sex worker based in Burari.
"But she does not charge me any money . We are in love with each other. She also takes care to bring chocolates (chocolate-flavoured condoms), " says Yadav.
He says he is married but hardly gets to meet his wife "Tell me where do I go?" he says.
He laughs and turns his attention to television. The next morning he has to drive back to Kolkata on another assignment.