Vehicle productivity, a non-issue

Last month the All India motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) celebrated it’s Platinum Jubilee. The Chief Guest on the occasion was the former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

There were varying facets of the occasion attracting notice depending upon the beholders’ disposition. Particularly noteworthy was the comment by Dr. Kalam that keeping in mind the importance of this (road transport) sector he would like to discuss on the topic "Indian Transport Industry and it’s dynamics. He added, "The Congress should debate at various fora, how to increase reliability, productivity and accident-free fleet and above all, evaluation of a happy family of the transport operators. This needs a visionary thinking and action."

More noteworthy was the comment by Dr. Kalam that presently, the average productivity of a vehicle in India is around 300 kms per day whereas in the developed countries the productivity is approximately 1000 kms in a day. Too big a chasm to be overlooked ! Leadership of AIMTC making merry over the fact of having attained the ripe age of seventy five years they were not conscious of, nor worried about, such low state of productivity of vehicles after completion of Ten Five Year Plans.

AIMTC is neither known to have displayed familiarity with the fact that when the first Five Year Plan was launched, when four or six lane roads were non-existent and when imported Mercedes’ truck cost only a few thousand rupees, the truck owners could still manage to achieve a turn around of about 250 kms a day. During the daylong celebrations, the AIMTC did ;not show any concern over the lamentable State of truckers, who at the fag-end of XIth Five Year Plan, with IVth or Vth generation vehicles selling for so many lakhs of rupees and Government striving for laying down each day around 20 kilometres of high grade, four and six lane highways and All India Permits being doled out for a paltry fee of rupees 15,000 annually, the per diem turn around of vehicles, as recalled by Dr. Kalam, is still around 300 kms only. Ironically enhanced productivity of trucks and thereby their profitability are anathema for Common Carriers / middlemen in road transport sector, who are the real constituency of AIMTC.

What however is absolutely un-understandable is the extreme unconcern of the Ministry of Road Transport at the Centre and of the Administrations in the States about the meager productivity of trucks. Despite that, both of these have bonded the trucks as the exclusive miltch-cow for revenue to the Centre and States, besides bribe for police and RTOs.

Referring to development of highways, Dr. Kalam said, "There is a need to arrange faster completion of these roads for ensuring increase in the productivity of vehicles. Going by the record and policy of the Centre and the

States one may be constrained to agree on this. Reason being, there is no co-relationship between setting up goals and achieving the targets for construction of highways and the productivity of trucks.

The instant objective and endeavour of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is to spend all available funds quick and fast and to keep the concessionaires in good humour. There is no intent or policy in place to improve the productivity of trucks, which should have been the basic objective, Indeed skeptics are wondering about the rationale and objective of creating high class highways. After all, these are only means for faster movement of men and materials. Where is the plan and policy to achieve that ?

Contrasting this is the approach of Railways, the other major mode of surface transport. Only this month they have declared to take the speed of trains to 200 kms per hour and almost eliminating congestion on dedicated corridors. Railways too are adopting PPP mode for investment and execution of their projects. The difference so obvious is that railways’ concern is productivity of their rolling stock and Ministry of Highways’ is achieving targets of road construction alone. It is absolutely insensitive to productivity of Rolling Stock of Highways, namely trucks. Jestingly one may comment that this is because railways invest in creating their rolling stock whereas Highways Ministry get their rolling stock for free, courtesy undemanding entrepremures. AIMTC’s, for whom truckers are no more than mere co-loaders, could’nt-care-less attitude about vehicle productivity is very understandable.