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Two-third of trucks out of business

NEW DELHI:   Rows and rows of empty trucks parked in godowns and pit stops across the country have become a grim reminder of the economic cost of India’s 21-day lockdown. With most industrial activity grinding to a halt after PM Narendra Modi’s March 24 lockdown call, over twothirds of India’s 52 lakh medium and heavy duty trucks and their crews have been left with little to do even as freight costs begin soaring. Sporadic obstructions to freight movement created by local police, for notified essential commodities in some cases, have only added to the industry’s woes.

But, even the MHA’s March 30 notification allowing the free movement of all goods, regardless of whether they are essential or non-essential, is unlikely to bring road freight back to normal in a hurry. The real problem, experts say, is the complete collapse of the manufacturing and infrastructure value chain, since most factories, retail outlets and construction sites have shut shop for the period unless they’ve been classified as essential. “As far as the government is concerned, there are no obstacles to freight movement on paper now. But, 60% of the road cargo pie comes from the manufacturing sector, another 10-15% from infra and export-related activity.

These sectors are hardly operating now,” pointed out S P Singh, senior fellow, Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training. India’s trucks haul an average of 6,000 mn tonnes of goods per annum, or 500 mt a month, but the lockdown has taken out nearly 75% of this business out of the equation, according to the IFTRT.