‘No food on the road, fear of harassment’: Truckers on travelling during Covid-19 lockdown

Arun George
Trucks parked

Trucks that were stranded near Mumbai earlier this week. (Source: Anandhu KC)

Kapil Dev Varma was one of the thousands of truck drivers stranded across the country due to the restrictions that came with the 21-day lockdown to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Varma, who was transporting rice, said the journey from Delhi to Navi Mumbai’s APMC market was a struggle, and delayed by two days.

All the dhabas and other outlets that drivers rely on for food and water had been barricaded shut by police, he said.

“We had to stop on the highway and walk to markets in villages to buy vegetables that we then cooked and ate,” Varma said in a telephonic interview from Mumbai.

Javed Khan, who transported a consignment of LPG from Mangalore to Solapur, said he started his journey on March 23 and was able to sleep for just three hours during the 750-km drive.

“There’s no problem on the roads but we can’t stop anywhere. It’s a problem even to stop to use the toilet,” he said in a telephonic interview from Solapur.

Khan, who hails from Uttar Pradesh’s Ambedkar Nagar, said police weren’t letting trucks stop anywhere and he saw drivers being beaten up.

Anandhu KC said he was returning to Kerala after transporting a consignment of pineapples to Delhi when the 10-truck convoy he was part of took a break in Maharashtra. Anandhu said one of the drivers was beaten up by the police over stopping and a window of his truck was smashed.

“We did a live video on Facebook, which the media in Kerala reported, and had to call multiple political leaders. It was only after their intervention that we were allowed to leave on March 24 midnight. We then drove straight back to Kerala without any stops,” said Anandhu.

Anandhu, who said he incurred a loss of Rs 40,000 on the journey home due to travelling without any cargo, said he made the journey to Delhi only because he had heard trucks with essential cargo wouldn’t face any problem.

Balmalkit Singh, chairman of the All Indian Motor Transport Congress, said hundreds of drivers were stranded at barricades without food or water, despite many of them transporting essential goods. Under guidelines provided for the nationwide lockdown, the transport of essential goods has been exempted.

Calls from families

Varma and Khan, both of whom are employed with Mumbai-based Shri Anand Transport Agency , said that they have been getting calls from their families to return home due to fears over the coronavirus pandemic.

Varma admitted he had even thought of returning given the prospect of work seemed dim. “But how do I return if there are no trains?” he said.

Khan, who will now leave for another destination, said he had thought of “running away” home. He said he wasn't looking forward to upcoming journeys given there are no facilities available on the road.

Anandhu said he had been getting calls from other stranded drivers he knew.

“I was told by those who assisted us not to expect anything to be done for them. I’ve been getting calls from others who are stuck, but I don’t know what to tell them,” he said.

To protect themselves from the virus, the drivers have taken different measures. Varma said he has been covering his face with a handkerchief, but didn’t have soap to wash his hands. Khan said he had a mask and was keeping the truck cab as clean as possible. Anandhu said he was self-quarantined in his Muvattupuzha home.

“One thing’s for sure, I’m not making any more trips during these 21 days,” Anandhu said.