Anil Kumar Sastry
Unbearable overheads and hike in highway toll make it a rough road for lorry operators across the country
BANGALORE: Inability to hike freight charges owing to stiff competition, increased cost of inputs and steep highway tolls make it a rough road for lorry operators across the country.
The recent hike in diesel price and road toll have only aggravated truckers’ woes and forced them to take their vehicles off the road.
“We have not increased the freight charges for six years,” said K. Anand, a lorry operator in Bangalore and office manager of the Federation of Karnataka State Lorry Owners’ and Agents’ Associations. “If anyone increases the charges, another operator will take away the business,” he said, explaining the stiff competition involved in the business. On the other hand, diesel price was revised 45 times during the last six years and the price has reached Rs. 39.15 a litre in Bangalore, from Rs. 20 in 2002.
‘Forced to overload’
Truck operators charge Rs. 3,500 (for 10 tonnes) to transport goods from Bangalore to Mysore whereas the actual cost of operation works out to over Rs. 4,000. “This is where the operators resort to overloading, transporting at least four tonnes more to earn some revenue,” Mr. Anand noted. Similarly they charge Rs. 6,000 between Bangalore and Hubli and Rs. 7,000 between Bangalore and Belgaum. Invariably the cost will be more than the actual freight charge.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has increased the charge across the nation for all vehicles from July 1 on tolled national highways. The fee was increased to Rs. 2.05 a km from Rs. 1.30 a km for lorries.
Balan Namakkal, a lorry driver told The Hindu that he had to pay Rs. 6,200 when he drives the truck from Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu to Delhi via NH 4, NH 3 and NH 2. According to Govindappa, a lorry operator, the toll is Rs. 6,000 for driving a lorry from Bangalore to Mumbai on NH 4 and NH 3.
Mr. Anand said a lorry driver had to pay nearly Rs. 800 in all at six toll plazas on a drive from Bangalore to Belgaum on NH 4. “If I charge Rs. 7,000 for freight and incur Rs. 7,000 expenditure towards diesel alone, how can I sustain my business and family,” he asked.
Besides all these, the driver had to ‘take care of’ RTO and police officials on the way, he said. Thus, whatever savings a lorry operator could make because of good quality roads would get nullified in the process.
The All-India Motor Transport Congress had agreed for Rs. 1.30 as toll in 1997 when the number of lorries across the country was nearly a million. However, during the past decade, the number of trucks has increased by at least three-fold, and there was no need to increase the toll. In fact, the Centre should have reduced the toll in view of the increased number of trucks, Mr. Anand argued.
Besides all this expenditure, a lorry owner pays Rs. 2,835 and Rs. 5,700 as quarterly road tax in Karnataka for a six-wheel and a 10-wheel vehicle respectively. In addition, every year he incurs not less than Rs. 25,000 expenditure to refurbish the vehicle in order to obtain fitness certificate from the Regional Transport Office.
Meanwhile, the nationwide strike called by the All-India Motor Transport Congress continued for the second day, and the impact was visible on Thursday with prices of vegetables going up in the State.
Office-bearers of the AIMTC and the Federation of Karnataka State Lorry Owners’ and Agents’ Associations were still holding discussions on their demands with the Secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, in Delhi when reports last came in.
Federation president G.R. Shanmugappa said they were waiting for some written assurance from the Centre on their demands.
In Bangalore, the arrival of lorries into the city and to the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee yards drastically came down. K.R. Market APMC assistant secretary Tandav Kumar said arrivals had come down by almost 80 per cent.
Mukesh M. Shah, secretary, Karnataka Goods Transporters Association, said, “Except essential items, nothing else is coming in.”
The strike had its impact on the construction industry with construction activity coming to a halt. Lorries transporting steel, cement, sand and stone have stopped plying.