The Transportation sector has been one of the primary victims of COVID-19. From rickshaw pullers to the airlines, all have been affected economically by the pandemic. India's overall energy demand fell by 14% in March-April 2020. Manufacturing, logistics, movement of men, material and cargo have become paralyzed. A small segment of the services sector is trying to make up for the loss through “work from home”. No doubt, extraordinary situations call for extraordinary action. But first, it is important to understand the impact of this disruption of global economy.
The freight segment has had a mixed short-term effect in terms of transportation demand, but there is a surge in demand for truck drivers for transportation of essential goods. However, the supply chain disruption and slowdown is expected to pull down freight demand in the medium-term. Since February, online food orders have dropped by 20% whereas online grocery orders are overflowing. It is yet to be seen whether these acquired habits of online grocery shopping will sustain after the pandemic passes.
As a population of 1.3 billion stays indoors, India is finding it difficult to get a move-on and questions are being asked about the impact of the lockdown on the crucial logistics sector. Though many of the curbs placed on movement of trucks will see some easing, but according to the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT), Indian trucking now battles a shortage of drivers. More than 50% of the 50 lakh trucks are off the roads due to unavailability of drivers.
The Indian trucking industry deploys more than 8 million drivers and 12 million helpers. As a baseline, 30 million people are directly employed by the trucking industry and more than 150 million people depend on it for their bread and butter, as per industry estimates. Undoubtedly, the large scale meltdown has led the sector to skid off its promising track, pushing thousands of fleet owners to the brink of financial loss.
Drivers were also dependant on the roadside food joints and dhabas, which have shut down. The problems have compounded with no workers to load and unload goods from the trucks, and only essential movement of people and commodities are being permitted by the authorities. Experts caution that the real impact of the nationwide lockdown would be long-term. The list of essential people and commodities must be continuously revised to minimize the adverse impact on people's lives.