Transporters seek fuel cost reduction, toll suspension amid financial crunch
Transporters have also urged the government to formulate a rescue package, including the extension of health insurance coverage to drivers and labourers involved in the movement of goods across the country.Updated: Apr 22, 2020 21:12 IST
Transporters have sought an immediate reduction in fuel cost and suspension of toll collection citing financial crunch because of the ongoing lockdown, which was initially enforced by the government from March 25 for 21 days and then further extended by another 19 days till May 3 to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
Transporters have also urged the government to formulate a rescue package, including the extension of health insurance coverage to drivers and labourers involved in the movement of goods across the country.
On Wednesday, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways officials held a meeting with transport associations. The All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) --- an apex body of transporters --- had reached out to the government, seeking an economic package for the sector. The cash-strapped sector is trying to bring back migrant labourers, as most of them have gone back to their native places because of the lockdown woes, and also to resolve supply chain hurdles.
“All pertinent issues were discussed such as the non-implementation of the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) directives on the ground, problems in bringing back drivers, providing insurance coverage to drivers and co-drivers, suspension of toll collection, reduction of diesel prices and a comprehensive financial package for the sector. The talks on insurance coverage for drivers is in final stages, and we’re hopeful of a positive announcement over the next few days,” said Kultaran Singh Atwal, president, AIMTC.
On April 17, the Centre had issued an order to the national highways authority of India (NHAI) to resume toll collection from April 20.
“India, which is the third-biggest importer of crude oil, couldn’t cash in on the historic slump in oil prices because of the Covid-19 outbreak. There has been no respite for spiralling diesel prices, which is impacting the transport sector in a big way. Besides, value-added tax (VAT) and excise duty have also increased significantly over the last four years. To make matters worse, toll collections have resumed from April 20, despite our stiff resistance. The government has increased toll rates by up to 7% from April 1. The sector is crumbling under financial strain and we’ve been pleading with the government to suspend toll collections for at least the next six months,” Atwal said.
On April 10, HT had reported that truck drivers have asked for various safeguard measures, including Rs 50 lakh insurance coverage for those engaged in the supply chain and free medical treatment for those who test Covid-19 positive.
“There is a clamour among the road transport fraternity for a minimum rescue package and suspension of toll collection, as the sector’s hardships are mounting by the day. Pending payments, mobility of drivers and co-drivers, hundreds, and thousands of trucks stranded on highways are making a transporter’s life difficult amid the lockdown. For instance, if a transporter has 600 stranded vehicles then as per the existing norms of two drivers per vehicle, he has to send 600 empty vehicles with 1,200 drivers to bring the stranded drivers back to their base,” Atwal said.
Truck drivers have also urged the Centre to ensure preventive measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 among drivers involved in the movement of goods. Earlier, transporters had also asked the government to provide sanitisation points for trucks at loading and unloading points at every 200 kilometres on national highways.
“Our worst fears have come true, as quite a few drivers have tested Covid-19 positive, despite repeated advisories and constant reminders to the government to ensure preventive measures to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease. A truck driver, who travelled from Panipat to Gwalior, tested Covid-19 positive recently. We had also proposed no contact movement for drivers, including checking their documents, but the authorities concerned never paid heed to our suggestions. Besides, drivers on the move are yet to be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) units such as masks, sanitisers, gloves, etc,” Atwal added.
On April 15, the MHA had issued guidelines to allow repair shops and eateries located alongside highways to reopen for stranded drivers. The government had also issued several advisories to state chief secretaries, urging that the movement of both essential and non-essential goods be allowed in a bid to avoid their shortages.