The “All Pakistan Goods Transport Owners Association” has complained that the mainstream print and electronic media platforms are not airing their perspective on the ongoing dispute with the cement, steel, textile and other sectors of industry over the implementation of the “Axel load limit law”. Awais Chaudhry, General Secretary of the Association, while talking to GVS argued that given the power and influence of industrialists, the media is silent and their stance on the hazards of non-implementation is not being highlighted.
Industry on the other hand is complaining to media that Imran Khan government has started implementing the “Axel Load Limit Law” without proper planning creating serious problems for an already troubled industry. Transportation costs have risen and its becoming difficult to supply goods to the markets in time since country does not have as many trucks as are needed. Industry wants the government to stop implementing the law for at least 9 months to an year so that industry can prepare to deal with the challenge.
Transport Owners’ Association states industry – especially Cement and Steel – is bring the government under pressure and has spread the rumours that government has agreed to stop implementing the law. Transport Association says that government can not stop implementing since the case is already being heard by the Islamabad High Court and implementation is continuing.
What is the conflict between Industry and truckers?
Ministry of Communication, lead by PTI minister Murad Saeed, is implementing the Axel Load Limit policy under the National Highway Safety Ordinance 2000. This ordinance was first brought by Musharraf government in 2000, but was never implemented due to the strong resistance by both truckers and the industry. However now Transport Association that represents the truckers has realised that implementation of law is in their favour.
According to independent analysts, truckers are bound to make more money since industry was forcing trucks to carry more weight sometimes upto 100 metric tons in trucks designed to carry only 20 metric tons. Now industrial units will have to hire more trucks – sometimes 2 or 3 for each consignment – for the same weight. This however raises the transportation costs for the industry. Cement, steel and construction industry are the most hard hit. As new law is being implemented, for the first time, trucks and transport vehicles are being checked on the high ways, especially motorways like M1 and M2 and they are being fined for carrying more weight than prescribed. Trucks that are still defying the law usually take old GT Road (N-5) or smaller link roads.
Islamabad High Court Ruling
The Transport Owners Associations maintains that the ruling of the Islamabad High Court has left the federal government with little choice but to implement the Axel Load Limit law, despite the pressure being exerted by the industrialists.
In its verdict, shared by the Association, the Islamabad High Court has asked the National Highway Authority (NHA) to explain the closure of weighing operations on Sangjani, Mula Mansoor and Aiman Abad weighing stations.
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The Court further ordered that since the National Highway and Safety Ordinance 2000 was enacted in the interest of the public it is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Communication to ensure the implementation of all clauses of the NHA 2000 “in their true spirit without exception.”
The Islamabad High Court has also appointed Mr. Kashif Ali Malik as the Amicus Curiae so that he can provide the court with reports on the status of implementation achieved by all relevant government departments.
Independent analysts, GVS has spoken with, argue that while the Axel Load Limit law makes tremendous sense, but government and industry have not worked together towards its implementation over the past 19 years and now with its sudden implementation industry has developed genuine problems and the government will have to sit with both the industry leaders and trucking associations to find a middle ground. This can be suspension on the implementation of law for few months till industry can make accommodations. So far trucking associations have not agreed.
Hazards for Trucker Community
Gen Secretary of the Transport Association, Awais Chaudhry, lamented that even though the ordinance was introduced back in 2000, it has not been implemented till this date, and the repercussions of non-implementation are being shouldered solely by truckers and truck owners.
Awais Chaudhry said, “Our vehicles and trucks are manufactured to carry a specific amount of weight, for instance, if a truck is built to burden the weight of 40 tons, and if I load up to 140 tons of weight, the braking system will become redundant, leading to road accidents and casualties. The terrible road conditions further increase the risks of accidents when trucks are overloaded.”
The General Secretary of the Transport Associated referred to the recent incident of Zafarwaal, where an overloaded truck collided, resulting in the deaths of 7 children and one rickshaw driver. He said, “From a legal point of view, that truck was only allowed to carry 27 tons of weight, but it was loaded with over 50-tons of weight.”
Awais Chaudhry explained that broken patches and holes that are prevalent across the roads and highways of Pakistan increase the risk of accidents and overloaded trucks often collide, resulting in loss of life, alongside grave financial damages to the truck owners.
Raising the issue of lack of a comprehensive insurance system for truckers and truck owners, Chaudhry observed that trucks are often carrying expensive materials, such as cement, sugar, and others. And in the instance of a collision or accident, there is no coverage to protect the driver and truck owner.
Chaudhry told GVS: “There is no effective system of insurance in Pakistan. Sugar is the most expensive product, and if there is an accident on the way due to rain, theft or road conditions, the transporter will have to shoulder the burden of paying financial damages. In the instance, the accident results in any casualties, the burden of the transporter further increases.”
The Gen Secretary of the Transport Associated observed, “Motorway is the main transportation network in Pakistan, and the motorway authorities do not allow overloaded vehicles to enter the road network. Due to their strict implementation of load limits, the motorways are in good condition, and the ratio of accidents is also less as compared to other highways.” Motorways, M1 & M2, are being maintained by Frontier Works Organization (FWO) and its vigilance is strict regarding weight limits. Trucks carrying loads beyond limit lead to erosion of the roads.
Truckers: Sacrificial Lamb in the industry
Raising the issues faced by the truckers and truck owners, Awais Chaudhry said, “We are willing to implement and exercise the mandated Axel limit prescribed by the government. In order to serve the financial interests of the industrialists, we are being presented as the sacrificial lambs who will shoulder all burdens.”
He added, “Why are truckers and truck owners being forced to carry overloaded trucks through crowded city squares and national highways?”
It is important to note that currently, there are around 350,000 trucks in Pakistan, of which 4000 are registered with the Transport Association and around 20, 000 vehicles fall within their control, while around 6000 trucks are registered with other traders. National Logistic Cell (NLC) created in 1979, during the Karachi port congestion crisis is the largest single trucking company in Pakistan. NLC manages around 8000 trucks – however it may not own more than 2000 trucks of its own.
Respected @ImranKhanPTI Please review the NHA decision about axle load limit because Cost of doing business is increased in Pakistan But from the first day your stand is to provide the opportunity for ease of doing business in Pakistan.
So please review this decision
— Atiq Chishti (@Atiq_Chishti) June 18, 2019
Awais Chaudhry observed that if the government fails to implement the National Highway Safety Ordinance 2000, it will be difficult to reduce road accidents and collisions as truckers and associations are tempted to carry the additional load in the lure of more money. He also explained the concept of bidding introduced by industries and factory owners, and these bids are largely won by truck owners willing to supply an excessive load for a meagre price.
During the last few years, Pakistan has witnessed an increase in the number of vehicles, while the volume of freight has decreased. Chaudhry noted that once the Axel limit is implemented, the equation will balance out and it will create a uniformed rate of transportation rents and put an end to the culture of bidding.
Transport Association laments that the government has not exhibited a resolve and willingness to implement this policy, and so far, it is only active to the extent of identifying and punishing truck owners who transport excessive weight.
The industrialists, appearing on tv programs, and through print media argue that sudden implementation of the Axel limit is bound to have a strong opposition from industry and big business as it will increase the transportation costs, creating a financial burden that can cripple the industry. They also argue that country does not have sufficient trucking infrastructure, no system of freight trains and water borne transport and the government needs to improve the overall facilities before implementing the new law.
Trucking Association has legitimate concerns of safety and depreciation of their vehicles. Axel load limits have been applied world wide including the neighbouring Iran, Afghanistan and India. All GCC countries have applied these weight limits. Pakistan is thus the only exception left where load limits have not been implemented so far. This is a situation that can not continue indefinitely. On the other hand, sudden implementation, under the directives of Islamabad High Court have created genuine difficulties for the industry – especially in sectors like Cement, steel, sugar and edible oil.
Government needs to mediate between the leaders of industry and transport association to find a middle way; this can be suspension of law for few months through mutual agreement so that industry and trucking both can find adjustments. If more trucks will be needed in the immediate future then the government needs to encourage imports of trucks by reducing duties on imports and encourage greater manufacture of trucks locally by reducing duties on import of essential parts. It also needs to examine the prospect of freight trains and water borne transport.