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Adding insult to injury: How Maharashtra’s new guidelines for the transporters are far removed from reality

transportation
Reading Time: 5 minutes

For an industry that has borne the brunt of the pandemic since the beginning of the past year, the transportation sector faces yet another hurdle in its services, with the fresh guidelines issued by Maharashtra that poses the risk of supply chain bottlenecks ahead.

The fresh guidelines issued by the Maharashtra government which mandates Cargo Carriers to have a negative RT-PCR report issued from upto a maximum of 48 hours before the time of entry into Maharashtra, is now being questioned and protested because of its lack of practicality.

Transporters believe that this will lead to havoc and massive delays and might cripple the entire supply chain.

The All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), an apex body of transporters, has claimed that the fresh guidelines are impractical. A statement issued by the body claims that it can disrupt the supply of essential commodities in the state.

The cargo carriers are carrying essential commodities, FMCG products, medicines, critical medical equipments and oxygen tankers for hospitals, oxygen concentrators, cylinders, export-import cargo etc. With the above norm, transporters fear that the entire supply chain will come to a stand-still and it will result in utter chaos, even impacting the manufacturing sector.

AIMTC in its statement had earlier mentioned how about 65% of their vehicles are already standing idle for lack of demand and reverse migration among drivers, cleaners and helpers segment who have a lurking fear for their lives. “Keeping them motivated with incentives and social security measures is what is making us maintain the essential supply chain. Asking our drivers to get the RT-PCR done again and again and the harassment faced en route on this account will further discourage and de-motivate them and make them run away abandoning their vehicles,” the statement read.

Delay in the supply chain will lead to insurmountable losses

The new guidelines come at a time when the country is reeling under the alarming rise in covid cases. At a time when tests and reports are facing a lag due to the towering rise in the infection rate, these new guidelines seem a bit too far removed from reality.

Chirag Katira, General Secretary, AIMTC sheds light on the entire scenario and voices out how these fresh provisions must be revisited at the earliest and rectified in all practicality.

He explains how at a time when RT-PCR reports generally take no less than 48 hours, the requirement for the same will lead to reduced turnaround time, increased expenses and overall confusion in the supply chain.

“Even when the RT-PCR test is done immediately, the report itself takes 3-4 days to come because all the laboratories are overloaded. For the Mumbai-Gujarat route, which is around 180 km, the drivers have to wait for an additional 3-4 days for the report to come. Thus, for a vehicle that is covering 10 trips in a month, it will now be reduced to 3-4 trips per month. That will increase my turnaround time and overall costs.”

He adds, “The salary of the truck drivers are based on the number of trips they make, in this case, 10-12 trips per month. To compensate for that, I have to increase my freight by three times, but my customers are not going to pay me for that.”

If every truck driver has to get down and show his RT-PCR report at check gates, it will lead to a jam of at least 5-10 hours, Mr Katira warns. All this when a place like Maharashtra has lakhs of trucks, such a step will only lead to unimaginable delay.

Delay at checkposts leading to delay in essentials movement

Mr Katira underlines that the new guidelines will lead to a delay up to 4 days in the transport of essentials as many trucks carry oxygen concentrators, pharma products, empty cylinders, raw material for essentials like oxygen cylinders, perishable goods, medicines, etc at a time when the country is inundated with the devastation of the second wave.

“A delay in transportation of essentials will lead to deterioration of the pharma supplies as many of these have reactive agents. Who will be held accountable for that?”, Katira questions.

We are in a state of emergency, our state is suffering so much.  We do not have proper facilities right now. This is the time when the government should support us to strengthen the supply chain management so that we can do faster deliveries and we can help the state to recover faster but because of the new guidelines, the supply chain will be disrupted, we will not be able to deliver efficiently and our capacity will be reduced to a third of what is generally is.”

~Chirag Katira, General Secretary, AIMTC

Impracticality of the rule adding to drivers’ woes

Mr Katira highlights how the new rules will only add to the woes of the drivers as most of the cities have traffic timing regulations and the requirement of an RT-PCR report will only add further hindrances.

“In Surat, the driver has to park the vehicle 35 km away from the city as they are not allowed inside the city, whereas in Ahmedabad, the vehicle is allowed inside the city after 9 pm. Most of the loading/unloading is done at night. At a time when truckers aren’t allowed inside the city, the vehicle driver has to park outside or park at 3-4 locations to get tested since centres are inside the city. This increases the possibilities of theft or pilferage as there is no one to guard the vehicle in the absence of the driver.

Since the truck drivers do not come under the ambit of the “frontline workers”, they cannot access public transport, thereby has to go through added hurdles towards getting the test done at a new city, Mr Katira explained.

Mr Katira fears that the problems undergone by the transportation industry in the past year may remerge in the coming days if the drivers face such continuous struggles towards performing their services. “If this goes on for long, the vehicular lock jam from last year due to drivers leaving for native towns may recur again”, he shares.

If they go back, they will not come back for 3 months since it is difficult to get them back after they leave for their homes.

Mr Katira is also the investor and proprietor of 3X Cargo Cab, which is dealing in urgent delivery of essential equipment, with 80% of their clientele comprising of pharmaceuticals. They indulge in same-day deliveries, even by midnight, of crucial cargo like export consignments where even a single day delay can lead to huge losses.

“In case of any delay, we will be penalised, as a delay or cancellation of the consignment will fetch us a credit note. In such a scenario, the expected delays from the fresh guidelines will only lead to us losing our business.”

In such critical deliveries of pharmaceutical equipment where a single consignment is valued at INR 10 lakhs, a delay in the supply chain or e-way bill expiry may lead to penalties worth INR 40-50 lakhs, Katira shares.

“We will end up having to pay huge penalties, whereas we are not even at fault.”

While expressing his views on the new guidelines, Vikash Khatri, Founder of Aviral Consulting, shares how the implementation will impact all essential parts of the supply chain.

It will be difficult to implement this as it is far removed from reality due to its impracticality”, shares Mr Khatri.

Practical challenges lie in its implementation and will only breed for inefficiency in the supply chain, he shares.

“RT-PCR report itself takes more than two days. How will the truck drivers remain idle for that time?”, he questions.

Its implementation will only reveal the gaps in the supply chain and lead to more inefficiency.

While suggesting probable options, he talks about resorting to Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) instead, at the borders instead of an RT-PCR test. “RAT can be done at the borders, they can make it chargeable at the borders if need be. Government should consider such options as long as it is practicable,” he said.

He also draws attention to how truck drivers do not generally have good access to good healthcare infrastructure. Since they usually have to spend their time outside the city area, it will lead to problems as the majority of testing centres and laboratories are situated inside the cities.

“There should be some practical aspects to such guidelines when they are being discussed”, he adds.

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