India’s National Permit System, which was introduced in 2010 to facilitate the free interstate movement of goods along the country’s national highways, may be failing to meet its objective because of road-side gangs that are extorting money from truck drivers delivering goods, including finished vehicles.
According to first-hand testimony from Automotive Logistics’s India editor Ramesh Kumar, truck drivers in the country are regularly being stopped and threatened into payment by gangs of illegitimate collectors, or ‘Goondas’ (hooligans), while traffic police turn a blind eye to the situation.
As part of a fact-finding mission undertaken in January to discover more about the challenges for vehicle delivery on India’s highways, Kumar travelled 2,000km over 15 days from Chennai to Madurai. During the journey he travelled through Tamil Nadu state aboard a Janta Roadways car carrier delivering Ford vehicles to Tiruvananthapuram, which was pulled over by a gang of Goondas on highway 45B who demanded 300 rupees ($6) from the driver to continue his journey.
While the sum demanded appears small, when put in the context of the low average earning of a truck driver in India, it is significant.
According to Kumar, drivers account for the extra costs when they present their expenditure for the journey undertaken to their employers and the reimbursement of that extortion fee depends on how much the fleet owner trusts his drivers. Kumar said that this situation is complicated because some drivers inflate the amount of money they were asked for and increase the cost, which perpetuates the problem for the transporter.
The National Permit System was designed to help cut down on operational costs for truckers by removing them from the requirement to stop at state borders on account of permit related issues. Transporters pay an annual fee of Rs 15,000 per truck for moving across the country as opposed to the previous system in which a compulsorily Rs 20,000 annual payment was levied allowing access to the transporters home state and three neighbouring states. For each additional state, the transporter used to have to pay and additional Rs 5,000.
However, the National Permit System appears to be failing. According to Kumar, transporters across the country have confirmed that extortion takes place on the highways and have complained to the government and federal authorities with little impact.
“The ruling party looks at transporters as cash cows,” said Kumar. “They have a say in who is appointed as a regional transport officer (RTO). These government officials in every state collect or fleece transporters alone or in association with Goondas and give a huge chunk to their political masters; the rest they take away as their own.”
“Everyone is aware of the menace,” added Kumar, “but no one is interested in finding a solution.”
Kumar has covered truck driver issues extensively over the past two years, including reports in Finished Vehicle Logistics (read more here). His book, ‘10,000km on the Indian Highways’ which goes into further detail on the problem, is now available. Enquiries should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org