Idling trucks, staff shortage: Bottlenecks for industries amid lockdown

On the deserted streets, hundreds of parked trucks and tempos are covered in dust. Photo: Dalip Kumar
Jeetendra Kumar Yadav has been parked close to the Daman border since March 23.  Yadav had to unload his truck carrying PTA (an input used for making synthetic yarns) at a Daman-based factory but he couldn’t move ahead because of the lockdown. After unloading his truck, Vijay Ram, a truck driver from Uttar Pradesh, too, has been held up in Navsari in Gujarat. He couldn’t pick up a load from another company and return to Mumbai.

 
The tales of Yadav and Ram show that despite a series of notifications and guidelines, the movement of trucks remains severely affected because of the nationwide lockdown. Even the latest guidelines might not be able to address the bottleneck fully, said transporters.

 
Close to 3.5 million trucks (along with their drivers and assistants) are off the road — some because of manpower shortage, and some because they are stuck in various parts of the country. This will make it tough for the transportation and logistics industry to restore normalcy in the supply chain, even as factories initiate phase-wise production, based on the latest guidelines from the ministry of home affairs (MHA).

“Manpower is the backbone of every industry and is locked out in every part of the country. Unless it reaches factory gates and transport centres where the trucks are parked, operations will remain shut,” said S P Singh, senior fellow at IFTRT. “Unless the railways and buses resume operations, how will the manpower report to work?  It’s a very conflicting situation,” he added.

 
Meanwhile, officials at steel companies said the latest guidelines brings clarity and will help the industry limp back to normalcy. “Steel was under essential commodities, so plants were running earlier, too. But because of these guidelines, there is clarity on the functioning of the supply chain which is going to make the movement of our incoming raw material like ferroalloys easier,” said Jayant Acharya, director-commercial at JSW Steel.

Acharya expects road movement to ease up as earlier only rail cargoes were working. “Our downstream activity will also pick up since there is clarity on transportation for us,” he said. Only being able to produce steel at the plant was not enough if the company could not export or send the finished goods anywhere. Now exports are also allowed and for that inter- and intra-state borders need to be opened. This is going to help the business stand on its feet gradually.

 
“We will push our capacity to its usual utilisation in a phased manner,” said Acharya. A senior official at state-owned Steel Authority of India (SAIL) echoed similar sentiments and pointed that the fresh guidelines will allow the company to open its yards, where material needed for making finished products can start flowing in. “One good option opened for the steel industry is exports and with borders between states opening up, it will be a lot easier for SAIL since we have to transfer material from one plant to another sometimes for a certain process. That smoothens now,” he said.

But Balmalkit Singh, chairman of All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), says the execution on the ground hasn’t matched the guidelines on the paper. “Empty vehicles are supposed to be allowed to ply according to the MHA guidelines, but the ground reality is very different. AIMTC is inundated with calls from drivers held up in various parts of the country," he pointed out.

 
Though loading by the railways has increased for key items, such as foodgrain, flour and pulses, unloading has not picked up at the same pace. A major reason for this is last-mile connectivity issues, like the unavailability of transportation facilities. For example, though the railways handled 2.72 MT of foodgrain, flour and pulses during the first 14 days of the current financial year, it unloaded only 2.55 MT during the same period. During the first week of lockdown in March, unloading was extremely low because of supply-side bottlenecks.

 


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