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Movement of goods remains restricted because of the lockdown. (Photo: PTI)
Movement of goods remains restricted because of the lockdown. (Photo: PTI)

Covid-19 lockdown: Transporting goods still a challenge despite govt orders

  • Of the 12 lakh trucks that ply the highways at any given point of time, just 1.2 lakh are now ferrying goods
  • AIWTA has sought insurance cover for truck drivers, loaders, cleaners, warehouse managers

NEW DELHI: The 21-day nationwide lockdown has disrupted the movement of goods across the value chain, notwithstanding the home ministry’s 29 March order allowing transportation of all goods - both essential and non-essential.

Reports of police high handedness to enforce the lockdown have not helped matters and resulted in shortage of delivery executives and labour for loading and unloading goods. Closure of eating outlets along the highways have also discouraged drivers from taking to the roads.

To put things in perspective, of the 12 lakh trucks with national permits that usually ply the highways at any given point of time, about 1.2 lakh are now ferrying goods, while 4-5 lakh trucks are parked on the national highways due to restrictions on movement.

All India Transporters Welfare Association (AIWTA) has urged the government to allow driving licenses to be used as e-passes for facilitating swift movement of commercial vehicles. It has also sought insurance cover for truck drivers, loaders, cleaners, warehouse managers, computer operators, in line with what has been announced for public health workers.

“An announcement requesting drivers to return trucks and serve the country should go from PMO (Prime Minister’s Office). It will have a huge impact," AIWTA said, adding that the government should reopen dhabas at every 200 km on the highways.

Thing are no different at ports. Amid the pandemic, the shipping ministry has advised port authorities to invoke the force majeure clause in their contracts. “Ministry of Shipping has intimated major ports that covid-19 pandemic can be considered as a ‘natural calamity’ entitling invocation of ‘force majeure’. However, these orders do not impact or dilute the fact that each major port needs to remain operational during the covid-19 pandemic and continue cargo operations in all respects," the order said.

Even as the government has asked shipping companies to not impose container detention charges on import-export cargo during the lockdown to maintain proper supply lines, congestion at ports looks imminent.

Indian Railways, however, has a different story to tell as it focuses on its freight services in the absence of movement of passenger trains. The national transporter has resumed parcel trains to ferry essential goods over across short distances and is also offering on-demand parcel train service for local industries and e-commerce players.

While freight operations meet the needs of bulk transportation of essential goods such as food grains, edible oil, salt, sugar, coal, cement, milk, vegetables, fruits, parcel trains have been transporting various items that need to be delivered in comparatively smaller quantities.

During March 30- April 1, the railways transported 7,195 wagon-load of food grains, 64,567 wagons of coal, 3,314 of steel and 3,838 wagons of petroleum.

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