While Mumbaikars are floundering to get their hands on food supplies what with traders striking work over the local body tax clash, a stockpile of essential food commodities like rice and pulses is building up at Vashi’s Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee (APMC), waiting to perish.
In the last three days, over 400 truck drivers loaded with essential commodities have pulled up at the market from various parts of the country. But they are standing by to unload it all. And the wait is costing them dearly.
Sources from APMC say that these essential commodities, estimated to weigh around 40 lakh kg all in all, will be unloaded once the market opens up. Their collective value is around Rs 12 crore.
A truck of food grains entering the market is generally known to carry 10 tonnes of commodities while larger containers can hold six to seven tonnes more.
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“The big containers are known to come from places like Punjab and Haryana. It is true that one common truck brings along with it 10 tonnes on an average. The price varies depending on the market value,” informs a source.
Despite all the food grains waiting to be consumed, the 400 truck drivers say they are down to scraps. Waiting at the APMC premises, the drivers have to shell out money from their pockets to buy food, drinking water and even water for bathing or going to the toilet – an extravagance they find hard to afford. Moreover, since the shops are shut they don’t have many places to go to eat or buy food.
Down to morsels
Most drivers are known to cook their own meals. They bring along with them flour and spices and a mini stove and buy vegetables. “But the provisions we have with us are about to get over and we have to rely on local shops, most of which are shut. The few that are open have been charging exorbitantly. On Thursday when I went to bring half a kilo of bottle gourd (dudhi) they were charging Rs 25. On a regular day it costs Rs 10,” said Kuldeep Singh, a truck driver who has come from Punjab.
The drivers say that they cannot even break the seals off the commodities because the money’s worth of the missing quantity would be deducted from their salaries.
Munna Pande, one of the drivers, said, “We are charged Rs 5 to visit the toilet and Rs10 for taking a bath. Besides there is no drinking water available and this summer is making it difficult to sit inside the truck.”
Many of them said that they were being forced to use water from toilets for drinking, since buying filtered water is expensive. A truck driver who did not wish to come on record said, “The traders have taps outside their shops and to keep us from using them, they have put a lock on it. It’s so hot that our throats get parched.”
The drivers and truck cleaners were worried that their food supply would get spoilt in the summer heat, or get stolen. They keep awake at night to guard the goods. Rajesh Kumar, a truck driver who brought goods from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, says they also need to protect the commodities from birds and rodents, who start pecking or gnawing into the sacks of rice or dal.
The humid heat is only adding to their unease, not letting them catch a wink of sleep. They try and go to sleep underneath the container during afternoon. “Traders should not have called for the supply if they planned to keep the market shut. We are suffering. After making a journey of about three days, we come here to the news that traders are on strike. It is troublesome standing all day long waiting for the traders to open shop,” said Insaf Ali, a truck driver whose vehicle contains 20 tonnes of rice.
Rs 12 crore
Approximate value of the 40 lakh kilos of food commodities stuck at APMC
Traders of APMC have called for a meeting today to decide whether to continue the strike. Jayesh Vora, director of Vashi APMC grain market, said, “We have called for a meeting on May 11 and would unanimously take a call whether to continue with the strike. The market is not scheduled to open on Saturday morning.”
I have been waiting in the summer heat since 4 am on Thursday morning. I brought 16 tonnes of chana dal in my truck. -- Ghanshyam Varma, Vapi in Gujarat
It took me 4 days to reach APMC market from Punjab. I have 20 tonnes of rice to unload. -- Kuldeep Singh, Punjab
I have been waiting since Wednesday for the traders to open shops so that I can unload the 10 tonnes of moong dal I got in the truck. -- Bhajan Lal, Jodhpur in Rajasthan