Covid-19 update: Trucks ferrying essential goods stranded on highways as India locks down
Railways staff including workers involved in the facilitation of cargo along freight trains, which have been allowed by the Centre too are facing issues in being allowed to travel by the local state police causing significant disruption in supply chain for commodities across the country.Updated: Mar 26, 2020 14:58 IST
The announcement of an unprecedented three-week lockdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has left lakhs of trucks ferrying essential commodities stranded along national highways even as the government has exempted the movement of essential goods during the period.
Railways staff including workers involved in the facilitation of cargo along freight trains, which have been allowed by the Centre too are facing issues in being allowed to travel by the local state police causing significant disruption in supply chain for commodities across the country.
“Our staff across all zones is facing difficulties in reaching the terminals as they are being stopped by the local authorities. In many cases zonal Divisional Railway Managers (DRMs) have had to call the police and ensure they are allowed. As transportation has not been provided, they have had to walk all the way and some had to cycle. Even during the lockdown, railways have to ensure freight trains are running across the country so that supply is not disrupted. We are focusing mainly on food grains (rice, wheat, etc), vegetables and fruits, coal, cement, Iron, Steel, fertilizer, salt, petroleum products among other which are all essential commodities,” a senior government official said.
Allaying apprehensions following his address on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said people need not panic about availability of essential commodities and medicines during the 21-day nationwide lockdown. Following the announcement on the lockdown people had descended on the streets resorting to panic buying. At present, nearly 75% of total freight carrying fleet is stranded and unable to unload cargo.
“There are about 2.5-3 lakh trucks stranded on national highways right now as they are not being allowed to enter. There are millions of drivers who are stranded with no food or facilities even as the police have not allowed them to assemble in groups. There is anarchy on the roads. The drivers are unable to leave the trucks on the road as they are carrying expensive goods; raw material, finished products to workshops etc, but are unable to unload the goods as even the factories have shut down. The owners are also unable to provide any help as there is no transportation possibility. There will be a big problem as the trucking industry is the lifeline of the economy. The government needs to intervene,” SP Singh, senior fellow at Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT) said.
The department of commerce on Wednesday issued an advisory to states to keep units manufacturing food and essential items going and allow transport of intermediary goods. The advisory said states are to allow transport vehicles carrying raw material, allow workers to and from food processing units and facilitate inter-state movement of goods.
“Some movement of perishable items like vegetables was allowed slowly after the order came in,” Singh added.
While Centre’s order exempts the movement of freight through land, sea and air during the lockdown period, many workers involved even in the aviation sector faced similar issues of being unable to commute and harassed by the local police.
The civil aviation secretary late Tuesday wrote to all states asking them to allow the movement of airport and airline staff and crew during this period.
“Airlines/airport staff and crew are supposed to maintain specific/minimum facilities and need to be travelling to their working locations. The civil aviation ministry has received grievances from airlines and airports on the same…minimumnumber of functionaries of airports and airlines would also be moving during the suspension of domestic and international flight operations as basic facilities at airports and cargo/ emergency/permitted flight operations (including maintenance) have to continue,” the letter said.