It was a typical, hot, dusty, April evening and we had stopped for tea in a quiet non-descript dhaba on NH 2. Watching the sun set over parched fields, we were having a conversation that was about to change the lives of long haul drivers. Both of us were returning from a 2,000 km road trip to Jharkhand as part of Mahindra Logistics’ CSR program to connect with truck drivers and their families. Though we had met only a week ago, the fact that we had a passion for the logistics world got us connected. The conversation centered on how it was possible that even in extremely deprived conditions, the driver’s job is still not respected. The driver’s children do not want to become drivers and drivers themselves have a low self-esteem. In spite of the untiring and courageous effort they put in every day, they were soldering on as it was their ‘fate’.
The conversation further meandered to data points such as the eight million trucks plying on the world’s second largest road network and yet how the ecosystem and economic structures have evolved to give drivers a raw deal. No regular salaries, no employment contracts, no social benefit, no wayside amenities, irregular and uncertain time with family, highway harassment by the authorities literally making them drive with their hands tied and their self-confidence compromised. The average distance of 300km a day is not even half the figure quoted in the developed world. So less kilometers, less goods, lowest freight rates, less earning, and bottlenecks from the authorities ensure the business dynamics just do not add up and the stress is borne by the most vital but least empowered link in the supply chain business - drivers.
Adding to the woes, their low literacy rate is a challenge making them unable to decipher vehicle and freight documents. More seriously, the inability to grasp the safety nuances, proper loading of cargo and inadequate understanding of highway signage prove deadly. The statistics are grim: Of the half-a-million accidents every year, a quarter is linked to truck drivers with the fatality rate pegged at 25%.With 50% of the mishaps between sunset and sunrise there seems to be no way out as the drivers prefer the perilous night journeys to escape harassment during the day.
The conversation ended on a sober note recognizing the need for education and training, protection from highway harassment, decent wayside amenities, regularization of income, provision for social security cover including healthcare, provident fund, accident/death insurance and family welfare to ensure this vital and almost invisible segment in the supply chain business develops in a sustainable way.
Somebody had to take up this cause and … we did.