Suresh Chaudhary (identity changed on request), a petrol pump dealer from Juhu, Mumbai, has been on tenterhooks since Monday, as he tries to keep an eye on WhatsApp updates on his mobile phone and also on news tickers. The reason is that the 40,000-litre fuel tank at his petrol pump has been empty as the fuel tankers from the oil depot supply point have not been able to refuel it in the past two days. On average, Chaudhary needs one refuelling of 20,000 liters to meet his customer demand.
“My petrol stock is empty, and even diesel will get exhausted soon,” Chaudhary told Autocar Professional on Tuesday afternoon.
Similar is the situation in the national capital Delhi, where the petrol pump owners claim that the situation is bad, as trucks carrying fuel and other commodities are being stopped from plying. Ajay Bansal, President of All India Petroleum Dealers Association, informed that even his tankers have been stopped from reaching his
petrol pump for the past two days. On a normal day, he needs to refuel at his petrol pump at least 2-3 times. “It’s just a matter of time before we are in trouble,”
Bansal said, adding that the situation is similar in most parts of the country.
While it is difficult to gauge the number of petrol pumps running dry, news agency PTI reported that about 2,000 petrol pumps, mostly in western and northern India have been running out of fuel sticks. While the public sector oil marketing companies are reported to have increased topping up tankers across the country, several petrol pumps are witnessing long queues, as motorists rush to fill up their vehicle tanks in anticipation of impending fuel shortages. Several motorists even took to social media posts reflecting on the long queues at the refuelling stations.
Maharashtra Road Transport Commissioner’s officials informed Autocar Professional that out of a total of 1.20 lakh tempos, trucks, and container trucks in the Mumbai metropolitan area, about 70000-80,000 remained off the roads on Tuesday. Likewise, industry estimates suggest that in Punjab alone, from where a significant number of drivers are employed, at least seven lakh trucks were off the road, whereas in Madhya Pradesh close to 10,000–15,000 trucks and around 10,000 private buses, trucks, and taxis were off the road today.
Why the protest by truck drivers and transporters?
Truck and bus drivers nationwide are protesting against a recent central government law that has a provision for hit-and-run cases. The newly enacted Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita mandates penalties of Rs 7 lakh and a 10-year imprisonment in case of a hit-and-run accident. The earlier law under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) had provisions for two years of imprisonment.
The transporters, who are on a three-day strike that began yesterday, allege that the new law, which is yet to get implemented, will end up becoming a tool for
harassing them and may increase corruption.
JP Singla, CEO of All India Transporters Welfare Association (AITWA), representing nearly 65% of the organised Indian road transport business this time, said that the drivers themselves are not ready to take up the vehicles, fearing the harsh punishment in case of an unfortunate case of meeting with an accident while driving.
When asked whether the transporter lobby bodies took up the matter earlier before it was passed by both houses of parliament, Singla replied that no such
proposal had come into the public domain. “Else, transporters would have definitely opposed it earlier,” he remarked.
Singla counters the narrative of a high number of road accidents involving truckers, as alleged by govt data. He alleges that the government is doing it because third-party insurance costs in the case of commercial vehicles are high. Therefore, a higher number of accidents by truckers would lead to higher third-party insurance.
The All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), another trucking body, claims to have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah stating that in many hit-and-run cases, the driver does not flee with the intention of evading responsibility for the accident. “But they have to do so to safeguard their life from the potential threat posed by an angry mob and residents,” the representation has said.
Former AIMTC’s President and Chairman of the Core Committee, Bal Malkit Singh, informed Autocar Professional, “In numerous instances, the driver willingly surrenders to the police and undergoes the necessary court proceedings following the law. Many drivers are refusing to operate trucks, causing significant disruptions in supply chains.”
Ruturaj Shinde, a truck driver from Navi Mumbai who participated in the protest, said, “The entire trucking community is unhappy about this judgment. Our families have told us to stay at home, as even if an incoming vehicle that is overspeeding hits us and we suffer injuries, no one will come to aid us. If we survive, we land up in the hospital and then in jail.”
Maharashtra cabinet to discuss truck driver issues on Wednesday
The Maharashtra State government, with instructions from Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, has called a meeting of all district collectors, instructing them to meet with
all representatives of truck and bus owners. According to a spokesperson for the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s office, the truck drivers’ issue will be discussed in the
Maharashtra Cabinet on Wednesday, and measures to ensure an uninterrupted supply of fuel to the pumps, including state security, will be discussed.
As per a spokesperson from Maharashtra State Industry Minister Uday Samant’s office said that the minister is currently in Sawantwadi talking to the striking truck drivers and the government is working to ensure that the common man is not inconvenienced and that the flow of essential commodities continues unabated.
Unlike the striking truckers, the Federation of All Maharashtra Petrol Dealers Association (FAMPEDA) has decided to support the government rather than the truckers.
According to FAMPEDA President Uday Lodh, Mumbai may face a shortage due to the unfavourable environment and incidents of violence. “We are not sure if our vehicles will be attacked, and there could be a sharp drop in supply from our end to various petrol pumps,” Lodh said.
Vivek Bhimanwar, State Road Transport Commissioner and Vice Chairman of the Maharashtra Road Road Transport Corporation, said that he is hopeful that the state and centre will work together to resolve the issue.
Currently, only 2.5 days of fuel stock is left with MSRDC, he indicated. MSRDC operates a fleet of approximately 15,512 buses that ferry 8.7 million passengers daily.
The way forward
While the transporter bodies have been engaging with the government representatives until late Tuesday evening, nothing concrete has come out of it so far. The transporters, on their part, are sure that the government will try to come up with a solution sooner than later, with the Ram temple inauguration just around the corner, followed by general elections.