With farmers blocking Singhu border, many truckers stranded on Kundli highway
It has been five days since Jaan Mohammad, 24, a truck driver, was stranded on the Kundli Highway near the Singhu border (connecting Haryana with Delhi) as thousands of farmers continued to camp on the road demanding the withdrawal of the Centre’s new farm laws.
“I am the son of a farmer. I understand why farmers are protesting and I support them. But being stranded on the highway has become an ordeal for drivers like me,” he said, even as at least a dozen others gathered around him nodded in agreement.
A resident of Dahej in Gujarat, Mohammad had travelled around 1,153km to his destination -- a plastic factory in the Kundli Industrial Area . He was scheduled to reach by November 27, but then the farmers’ protest started and the Singhu border got blocked; his truck now stands parked merely two kilometres from its destination, unable to move an inch forward for the past five days.
Dozens of other drivers are similarly stranded on the Kundli Highway with no place to go as they wait for the road blockade to end. Since they cannot abandon their trucks laden with wares, the truckers are forced to live, eat, and sleep at the spot with the farmers. With nothing to do, groups of them could be spotted playing cards or watching protest videos on their phones on Tuesday.
Sadashiv Pandey, 48, who was to deliver thread spools to the Kundli Industrial Area on Friday, said, “While the farmers have been kind enough to feed us langar (community kitchen), it is at a little distance from where we are and so we rely on food from nearby hotels. This is increasing our daily expenses,” he said.
The protest area spreads to more than four to five kilometres on the Kundli highway at the SInghu border while the queue of stuck vehicles and trucks stretches far beyond that.
Increasing daily expenses are not the only issue, say truckers. Karan Singh, 37, who was driving from Chandigarh to deliver chemicals at a factory in south-east Delhi’s Okhla area, said the transport and logistics business would be hit if these trucks aren’t able to make enough trips.
“A lot of truck owners have to pay EMIs. The lockdown had hit their business hard and they are already cash-strapped. How will they pay their loans if the vehicle remains stationary for days and aren’t able to make trips? Although we are salaried employees, it will affect our earning as well. If the boss doesn’t have money, how will he pay us?” he said.
“The government should listen to these farmers and solve their problems. Nobody would choose to live on the road unless they were forced to,” he said.
Naveen Gupta, general secretary of the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) said the queue of trucks awaiting entry into Delhi at the Singhu border alone is as long as around 5 kilometres now.
“Entry of trucks into Delhi has almost come to a complete halt because of the ongoing protest. Though we do not have an exact number of trucks stuck at the borders, but it is safe to say that more than 1,500 trucks are stuck. Per day, the losses being faced by truck owners is around Rs 2,500 per truck, including taxes, cost of the driver and the loss in the number of trips. The problem is that because of the delay the clients are also likely to deduct money from their total payment,” he said.
SP Singh of the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT), an independent research body which tracks the road transport industry along 75 trunk routes across the country, however, said the impact has been minimal so far.
“This is because most of the truckers are taking a detour to reach their destinations. Had there been any serious adverse impact on the trucking business so far, there would already have been an outcry by the transporters associations by now. However, if the agitation continues for longer, then fruits and vegetables will soon be costlier in Delhi-NCR,” said Singh.