by Ramesh Kumar
Posted on December 09, 2015 at 07:25 AM
Watching Sylvestor Stallone's Rambo: The First Blood recently for the umpteenth time, I stood transfixed towards the climax. Why?
A crying and remorseful Rambo tells his past handler who is stopping him from killing his tormentor - a police officer- and beseeching him (Rambo) to surrender to the police waiting outside: 'Ïn Vietnam, I was handling the costliest tanks and used million dollar equipment. Here, on return, there is no job even as parking attendant. No respect. On the contrary, people look at us as if we had done a big blunder."
Rambo's anguish was understandable. I could not help correlating his predicament to that of the long haul drivers rendered helpless after accident that crippled them for life. These handicapped drivers absolutely become vegetables post-recovery. During their career as long haul drivers, they made good money irrespective of whether motor maliks gave them a 'salary' or not. When motor maliks quietly evade salarium commitment and opting for per trip basis, drivers invariably resort to their own strategems to eke out a living. Like his malik whom he is serving, he has his own family to attend to. Motor maliks are fully aware of such happenings and yet act as if they are unaware. Or, have to come to accept it as a fait accompli.
Last year, on the Pune-Nagpur Road Trip, Ulhas Ambegaonkar and myself halted at a truckers dhaba near Amravati for evening tea break. A Jaipur footed cashier at the counter joined the conversation with assembled drivers and he shared his plight. Six years ago, he met with an accident while driving a truck, lost his leg and along with it, lost his job as well. Though he managed to get insured sum, that largesse ran out quickly. His employer simply washed his hands off claiming that a handicapped driver is of no use to him - despite the Jaipur foot. That is understandable from safety angle. Thus this driver had to settle for a cashier job at this dhaba where he used to frequent during his hey days! It was a shock for him to realize that his earnings would not be more than Rs.5,000 per month for a 12-14 hour duty. Anything is better than nothing became his credo. Occasionally the reality that his earning capacity has been quashed hit him hard. But he has learned to live with it.
The latest case is that of Rajkumar Nai from Etawah, Uttar Pradesh. His a similar story like that of Amravati dhaba cashier. Now fully recovered and fitted with Jaipur foot, mid thirtyish Raj has no takers. Elderly parents and two school going children to support, he is clueless. Drivery is totally ruled out. What to do next?
Safety net is something that is missing for these hapless drivers. No wonder, the supply pipeline of drivers is shrinking. On the one hand, elderly drivers are slipping out and at the other extreme youngsters prefer to be Ola, Uber cab drivers than long haul truck drivers.
Fleet owners are not Gods. At the maximum, they can manage just a single vehicle. What about the second and the hundredth truck parked in their compound roadside? Or take the case of Indian industry. Who will bring in raw materials/components from wide and afar to the manufacturing site and again who will drive finished products to the market shelves in nooks and corner of vast India? Are they ready for headload? Or are they going to look for employees at every level to possess a valid heavy commercial vehicle license to meet any exigencies? Scary, yes.
Rambo and Raj are in the same boat. Jobless now, despite having served their nations until recently with sincerity. Thankless world? Maybe. Maybe not.
The writer is the author of 10,000 KM on Indian Highways, Naked Banana! and An Affair With Indian Highways . He is also the founder of KRK Foundation, a registered Trust focused on improving the working and living conditions of truck drivers and their families living in remote villages of India. He is reachable at email@example.com
Throwing up their hands collectively declaring that they have outsourced transportation and therefore it is not their responsibility to look after the health of long haul drivers servicing them is unacceptable. Outsourcing does not mean abdication of responsibilities. Healthcare of drivers who help them “grow their business” directly or indirectly should be a priority. 3PLs can monitor this exercise on behalf of OEMs. Such a gesture also will assist build a better driver relationship environment between the service seeker (OEMs) and service providers (drivers). A healthy driver is good for all. This care or attention to this much neglected community will begin to reflect on corporate’s bottomline. Not on a quarter on quarter basis. But over a longer horizon. Ready, India Inc?