A high-risk job, no safety net

Ramesh Kumar | January 28, 2015



Ashwini Gupta, 18, dreamt of becoming a truck driver. That was only till he saw his father Anantlal bludgeoned to death at Chandoli, near the border between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It was around Navaratri 2011.

His fault? Refusal to part with '5,000 as bribe to the RTO (regional transport office) official. Three days before that, the father and son left Ghaziabad in a truck of  Shivshakti Transport, ferrying a consignment of pharma items to Kolkata. On November 26, the truck was intercepted at Chandauli (Police Station Alinagar) by a transport official and four policemen. They asked Anantlal to show the papers. The papers checked out. Then they got the truck weighed to check for overloading, but found it was within permissible load. They became furious and demanded a bribe.

When he refused to pay, they started beating him, telling him they won’t let him go till he paid up. The beating continued; he fell, then died due to serious injuries. They told Ashwini they were taking him to a hospital. Instead, they brought him to the Bihar border to throw his body in a river. After Ashwini begged them and villagers gathered, they left the body and ran away.

Ashwini’s mother and sister live in the incomplete house on national highway 2 near Allahabad.

The fleet owner visited the bereaved family, helped them carry out the last rites, gave them a few hundred rupees and vanished, never to be seen again. The local and national trade bodies promised a big compensation to the Gupta family in the presence of ex-president APJ Abdul Kalam. They dished out only peanuts, in small doses. Ashwini married recently, and is dreaming about completing the house his father began building. He now works as an assistant cook near his hometown. He has given up on learning driving trucks.

Rajkumar Nai, meanwhile, cannot drive a truck again. He was ferrying cement past midnight near Etawah when an accident occurred. He lost his left leg below the knee and also the toes on his right foot. The owner of the truck, an MRF tyre dealer who owns another seven trucks, dumped him in a government hospital on the night of the accident in June 2014 and scooted.

Rajkumar, now in his mid-30s, had worked with the same fleet owner for over eight years. After completing the intermediate school, the resident of neighbouring Auriya learnt driving in the same company. The owner of the fleet often rated him as one of his best drivers. Until the accident, that is.

One accident is all it takes to end an old relationship between a truck owner and a driver. Rajkumar, father of two children aged 13 and three, lives with his elderly parents, along with the family of his older brother.

He had to arrange for his own treatment at a private hospital. When I contacted the truck owner, he told me that he is a small businessman and would give Rajkumar some compensation as and when he is able to provide it! Rajkumar is adjusting to his new life, wondering what to do next.

In both the cases, the drivers had no insurance cover in their names. Whatever promises are offered in the mandatory third-party insurance clauses by and large never reach a needy driver. Typically, the truck owner gets the benefit of any compensation that may accrue to the driver in case of an accident, based on the fictitious claim that he has already spent a lot on the accident victim.

Truck drivers are semi-literate and unaware of their options. Most refuse to get insured against accident or death, citing the high premiums. Third-party insurance needs an overhaul by the insurance regulatory and development authority (IRDA) to ensure accident victims – read drivers – are the real beneficiaries, not the fleet owners.

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