The lives and times of drivers as seen by one of them
Source: The Sangai Express

Imphal, August 01: Despite getting only a meagre amount as wages for their laborious service along the perilous National Highways in ferrying essential commodities, it is hard for the truck drivers in Manipur to give up the job and start looking for other greener pastures.

The profession of the drivers is not an easy one with danger and uncertainty lurching along the routes and threats of various kinds from anti-social elements becoming a part of their lives, but the onus of the responsibility they have shouldered, especially during times of bandh and blockade in transporting goods for the people seem to have missed the attention of many.

Talking to The Sangai Express, Phanjoubam Naba, who has been in this 'thankless' service since 1985-86, informed that there has not been a single day in which he had been completely in peace with himself while performing his duty and wondered whether he would come home safely and meet his family members again.

This is the kind of problems being faced by all the drivers in the State, he said.

A resident of Thongju Part-II Kourou, Naba said that apart from other difficulties long the road, they are exposed to highway looters who prowl at night.

The joint organisations of the drivers or the transporters as well as the Government have been able to do precious little to mitigate the problem, he observed.

But despite knowing all these, the drivers risk their lives and continue with their service come hell or heaven, he said proudly.

Quoting the proverbial saying of the Manipuris, Khong Chotlaga Chil Chotli, Naba said that the family members of the drivers have to starve for the day if they do not work behind the wheel for the day.

Moreover, the meagre amount of Rs 1500, which a driver receives at the end of the month as wage for his hard labour is not enough to make both ends meet.

It is usually the Meitei truck owners (transporters) who fix Rs 1500 as the 'salary' for the drivers.

But in case of non-Manipuri owners they usually give Rs 2000 or more to the drivers, Naba said, who was earlier doing service for a non-Manipur truck owner.

There is no other alternative source of income for the truck drivers, he said, adding that however, there were instances in which they could earn some Rs 100/200 by picking up stranded travellers along the way or carrying some of their commodities.

Complaining against the failure of the drivers/transporters bodies and the Government in taking up any steps to ensure the future of the drivers, Naba strongly felt that something like a pension scheme should be started for them in view of the risk involved in the profession of drivers.

In the absence of any medi-claim facilities, the drivers themselves have to spend money from their own pockets during times of sickness, he rued.

When asked how the family members of the drivers are faring as the economic blockade called by ANSAM along the National Highways has crossed over 40 days, Naba prompted said the impact of the blockade is being felt by all section of the society, but it is more so for the daily bread earners and the drivers.

When contacted, representatives of All Manipur Drivers Welfare Association and All Manipur Road Transport Drivers and Motor Workers Union confirmed that here has been no pension scheme for the drivers in the State.

However, the on its own All Manipur Road Transport Drivers and Motor Workers Union has been providing Rs 250 each to 30 retired and old drivers every month as mark of respect to their contribution to the society.