Saturday, 4 July 2020

Truckers Off The Wheel

Updated: June 2, 2012 12:45 pm

Sadananda Sahoo was earning thousands of rupees, running a small hotel and a tea stall at Atharbanki on the Paradeep outskirts. There were no financial problems, until the blanket ban on mining imposed in July 2011, transportation of mining through truck banned subsequently, altered his lifestyle quite suddenly.

Sadananda’s livelihood suffered and he had to close down his hotel, and his savings were spent to sustain his family. He is now searching for a job. Like Sadananda there are thousands of people in coastal Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapada districts. These truck owners and truck dependants eked out livelihoods from truck business who led a comfortable life when mining activity was at its peak. They have now either migrated to neighbouring districts and states or are doing odd jobs to keep soul and body together. In a word, they are living a miserable life.

Ban on mining and subsequently Odisha government’s prohibition to transport minerals through trucks have rendered 2 lakh people jobless. Those who were working as drivers, cleaners, supervisors, maintenance staff, security guards, automobile garage employees, diesel mechanics, small traders and vendors fetch eatable items. Most truck owners had borrowed loans from commercial banks and private financiers to keep their truck business intact.

Report says that to make a fast buck during boom time when minerals transportation was allowed through truck, many unemployed youth from Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Jajpur, Kendrapada, Keonjhar districts bought trucks by spending their own funds and borrowing from financiers and attached it to transport minerals but the blanket ban on mining and transportation by trucks came like a nasty blow that shattered their economy.

When mining was at peak, truck owners and their dependant businesses were extremely well. Paradeep landscape had changed drastically, star hotels, multi-storey buildings, high rise complexes, luxury lodges, hotels, bars, and restaurants came up in every nook and cranny of the port town and surrounding regions connecting NH-5 [A]. Land had turned to gold and prices shot up from Rs 1200 to Rs 1500 per sqft, house rents had increased three to four fold, getting a room had become dream at Paradeep owing to scarcity for many.

People who did not even have a bicycle, began acquiring high-end bikes, cars and SUVs, did up their homes and bought luxury consumer goods like LCDs, refrigerators, air- conditioners, computers, washing machines and other such items. Spending lavishly in bars and restaurants became the lifestyle of many truck dependents.

But the blanket ban on mining, transportation of iron ore and minerals by trucks have shattered their business; their dreams have come to a sudden end, few months ago trucks were lining from Paradeep port town to Chandikhol over NH5 [A] waiting for a long time for unloading cargo on the port but situation has turned drastically after the state government put ban on transporting cargo through trucks, there were rare traffic jams over NH5 [A] causing perennial traffic inconveniency very rare to sight mining laden trucks passing through this express highway in recent times.

Truck complexes built for the iron-laden lorries on Paradeep outskirts are lying vacant, makeshift hotels on roadside and hotels have closed down. Lodges and bars have no business, car and bike showrooms have not touched 10 per cent business in past ten months. Many restaurants and eateries are on the verge of closure. Automobile shops and repairing houses have downed their shutters forcing thousands its dependants jobless.

Those people living off truck businesses are jobless and selling their precious articles to eke out a living. Many have pushed into bankruptcy; financiers are calling them regularly to pay back the debts borrowed from them. Significantly those ready to dispose of the vehicles with a motive to repay the loan dues but there were no potential buyers available to purchase these idle vehicles pushing them into a great trouble.

The ban on mining and its transportation by trucks have almost devastated the lives of thousands of truck dependents, most of the families who enjoyed a luxurious life have now turned penniless. Those who want to carry out legal mining transportation were faced with another trouble i.e. slowdown of international iron ore market as few countries like China, Japan have curtailed their iron ore purchase from India consequently iron ore export through Paradeep Port has reduced drastically for the past ten months and those miners with licenses are being allowed to take up mining for helping the railways.

Three truck owners associations, operating in Paradeep, had united on a single platform and had raised protest on several occasions against blanket ban on mining and its prohibition by trucks but state government remains unheeded over their grievances, consequently they opted to deploy vehicles in non mining sector which brings low income even unable to meet daily expenditure and paying loan dues and many are doing odd jobs and searching for alternative employment after putting their vehicles idle, informed Sumanta Biswal, Paradeep truck owner’s association president.

The report informs that the private financiers those who had spent huge money on truck business have lost hope to recover the loan dues, as the borrowers are not in position to return the debt, security, mortgage and surety. Even those truck owners who want selling of vehicles to clear up the loan outstanding there are no purchasers. A peculiar situation has arisen, almost Rs 500 crore was spent by different financiers on truck business likely to be unrecovered, ascertained a financier company executive.

The only relief is that dust allergies and dust-related diseases have come down drastically in Paradeep and most of the surrounding villages, where mining-laden trucks used to pass in past few years, traffic has reduced and trucks laden with ore don’t rumble along the roads any more.

 By Kahnu Nanda from Jagatsinghpur

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