“Young men do not want to enter the industry because of the risks involved”
CHENNAI: The goods transport industry is facing a nearly 40 per cent shortage of drivers, according to industry representatives. The issue has become a cause of concern among lorry and truck owners, especially in the last few years.
All India Motor Transport Congress spokesperson in Tamil Nadu R. Sugumar said, “Young men do not want to enter the industry because of the risks involved.” The risks include lack of safety on highways, high stress levels, low pay and vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, he said.
He said that ever since the government brought in the criteria that drivers should have passed Standard VIII to be eligible for a vehicle permit, there had been a setback to the industry. “Most drivers are uneducated persons and such criterion comes in the way of their owing a vehicle,” he said.
M. Babu, a goods transport driver for 15 years now, said heavy vehicle drivers had started exploring more lucrative options in the Information Technology (IT) industry. “Drivers working for IT companies earn better. Though I have been a driver for several years I have not seen much improvement in my earnings,” he said. I end up getting only one-tenth of the money I invest, he said.
Lack of safety
V. Purushottaman, a driver who regularly travels to Andhra Pradesh, said that instances of highway robbery was very frequent on this stretch. “The highway patrol is hardly of any help and the police refuse to register cases of robbery,” he alleged. He also complained about having to bribe patrol officers and other criminal gangs who extorted money and goods from highway drivers.
L. Ezhumalai, a driver based in Puducherry, said that he had once been waylaid by a criminal gang on the East Coast Road. “The gangs typically attack drivers who stop over at the road side to take a break or park their vehicles in a corner to have a nap,” he said.
A driver transporting soap and other cosmetic products said that such attacks were common and many drivers took a considerable risk by plying on these roads at night. If a driver loses the goods he is transporting, he also loses the job, he said.
The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS is also seen as a big reason why many are staying away from the industry.
“In rural areas it is difficult for a driver to get a wife because drivers are widely perceived as carriers of the disease,” lamented Mr. Babu.
When contacted, a Highways Department official said that the safety issue was exaggerated by the industry and that things were well under control.