Punjab transporters voice inability to repay loans for idle trucks: Stoppage of Indo-Pak trade hit them hard
At Attari on the Indo-Pak border, trade has come to a standstill with virtually nothing going to Pakistan from India and vice-versa
While the Union Finance Minister and the media have been busy voicing their concern at the dipping demand for cars and buses, what one sees in Punjab is a sharp drop in the number of trucks on the road. At Attari on the Indo-Pak border, trade has come to a standstill with virtually nothing going to Pakistan from India and vice-versa.
Transporters, truck drivers and cleaners, besides the loaders, are the ones who have been the worst affected. Transporters claim on condition of anonymity that at least 600 trucks have been surrendered to banks and other finance companies. But the loans remain, causing considerable anxiety to transporters, admits Avtar Singh Lahoria. “Resale prices of trucks have also fallen sharply and many of us don’t know what to do. There doesn’t seem to be any option but to commit suicide,” he says.
Jasvinder Singh Grewal, who once owned several trucks is severely depressed. Inderpreet Singh, MD of Worldwide Movers Pvt Ltd, also confirmed that truck owners were unable to repay loans. Loaders, says Jasveer Singh, president of Hind Mazdoor Coolie Union, have been forced to withdraw their children from private schools. And those who had taken loans to purchase two wheelers are now in a fix. Prof. Ranjeet Singh, who has researched extensively on Indo-Pak trade, says nowhere else in the world is trade conducted like a tap, on and off at whims.
The handtools and hosiery industries in Punjab till recently used to work in three shifts and almost round the clock. But the shifts have come down to just one. Amritsar once had thousands of powerloom units but their number is now in hundreds. The garments industry too has virtually been crippled.
The bicycle industry, units making cycle parts and those making sewing machines in Ludhiana, also report a 40 per cent drop in demand and supply orders. Ludhiana once hosted around a million migrant labourers. Their number has come down by half following Demonetisation and GST. Sharp drops are also reported in the sale of tractors and agricultural equipment.
While Punjab used to have over 400 cotton mills, the number now is just 56, claims Bhagwan Das Bansal, president of Cotton Mills Association. Former foremen in the mills have put up tea stalls, he says. The land where mills were once situated are giving way to housing colonies. Desperate mill workers are migrating to Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan in search of work but largely in vain.
Bathinda, Barnala, Abohar, Faridkot, Kotakpura and Ferozepur were flourishing cotton growing areas, but the slump in the market and rapid deindustrialisation have wreaked havoc in these areas, suggest reports. With the festive season barely weeks away, the future looks bleak for industries and industrial workers in Punjab. The cycle that started with the disastrous Demonetisation has now come full circle.