Daily movement of trucks has collapsed to less than 10 per cent of normal levels, according to All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), an umbrella body of goods-vehicle operators representing about 10 million truckers. Road transport accounts for about 60 per cent of freight traffic in India and 87 per cent of its passenger traffic, according to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
Trucking has emerged as a major chokepoint in global supply chains from food to medical supplies as governments around the world take ever more stringent steps to contain the pandemic, restricting the movement of vehicles as well as people to drive them.
The stoppages in the country, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a three-week lockdown from March 25, are a harbinger of the damage the measures are wreaking on the economy amid forecasts the country could see its first contraction in at least two decades.
“Though the government has allowed movement of both essential and non-essential goods, the situation is very different at the ground level,” said Naveen Kumar Gupta, secretary general of AIMTC, the largest grouping of transporters in India. Almost daily clarifications by the government take time to trickle down to officials enforcing the rules, making operations difficult, according to the organisation’s president, Kultaran Singh Atwal.
The decline in road transport is another major setback for fuel demand in the world’s third biggest oil market, which has already been hit by the collapse in air travel. Fuel sales in March by India’s three biggest state-run retailers shrank by as much as 33 per cent.
One of the major problems facing truckers is loading and unloading because of a shortage of labor, according to AIMTC.
And with the lockdown shutting highway food establishments and workshops, truckers can’t get the services they need even if they are on the road.
The world could be on the brink a food scare as the coronavirus upends supply chains and sends prices for key staples higher. Prices of rice and wheat — crops that account for a third of the world’s calories — are rapidly climbing.
First Published: Wed, April 08 2020. 01:35 IST