WITH TRADE between India and Pakistan via Attari-Wagah having virtually come to a standstill, transporters, truck drivers, conductors and mechanics are struggling to make ends meet.
Pakistan has stopped trade with India at Integrated Check Post Attari as well as scrapped the Samjhauta Express service after India scrapped Article 370 that granted special status to J&K.
“After the Pulwama attack, the Indian government had imposed high duty which had directly affected the import. We were expecting that this would soon come to end and we will again have good days. But now Pakistan has also imposed a ban on trade. What should we do now? Where should we go?,” asked Amarjeet Singh Shinda, an Attari Truck Union representative.
He further said, “There is no one who can listen to the plight of transporters and truck drivers who have been dependent on trade via ICP and Samjhauta Express. More than 10,000 families are directly affected by the shutting down of trade at Wagah. India and Pakistan governments must think about these families. There is no way we can shift our business somewhere else and start earning money. There is already a recession in the market and there is no business.”
Export to Pakistan had decreased over the last five years, but transporters at Attari were earning from import from Pakistan.
Amarjeet said, “We get most of our business out of import from Pakistan. The import had increased over the years and we were also getting good business. But suddenly it all has ended for us.”
Around 44,000 trucks come from Pakistan to India via ICP each year, loaded with goods from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Goods in these trucks are further sent to different parts of country by trucks stationed at Attari.
Supply via Samjhauta Express would also bring additional business for transporters at Attari. Most of the truck owners, drivers and conductors at Attari Wagah Union are from villages with 10-20 km from Attari. Nowadays, a few trucks with Afghanistan goods come. These are not stopped by Pakistan.
“There has been no industry in the border belt of Punjab. We had some business from Attari-Wagah border but now that has also completely stopped. Many transporters are not able to pay the monthly installments of their trucks to banks. How can they pay drivers and conductors hired by them? Many owe money to private financers who have been showing no mercy. They are taking away the trucks as transporters are not able to pay installments,” said Malkeet Singh, a transporter.
He said, “We are in tension. The border belt has always suffered due to relations between India and Pakistan. But we stand again and again. ICP had offered big hope but now we are back to square one.”
“The governments of India and Pakistan never think of the people on the border. They just pass judgement and then we suffer. Punjab suffer whenever there is a dispute between India and Pakistan. And we have no strong voice in Parliament,” said Sukhdeep Singh, who owns a truck and drives it himself to cut expenses.
Ram Niwas runs a tyre repair shop at Attari. “For the last one week, I having been coming here and returning home empty-handed. When trucks aren’t running, what tyres will I repair? I fear for the future of my family,” he said.