CEO Jehaan A. Kotwal shares his experience of being a cleaner on the truck and the adventures along with that.
Our 52 year old driver Sabit Ali with 30 years Driving experience started the truck to leave Castrol Bhiwandi. I could see he was a bit shy and nervous as I sat beside him. Never in his life has a company owner sat with him in the truck. It was quite odd for him since this time I was his cleaner. We asked his young cleaner to not join us on this trip as Castrol does not permit more than 2 people in the truck. He was concerned about his cleaner and his wellbeing. Some money and word of encouragement were exchanged and they parted ways. Sabit Ali felt much better after once we left the godown and my first question to him was if he had eaten. That’s where our friendship began.
Now to give you a short brief about what, why, when and where: I am Jehaan Adil Kotwal, 26. I Majored In Entrepreneurship and Minored in International Studies from FLAME. I am the CEO of JFK Transporters Pvt Ltd. My father Adil Kotwal started his career as a Truck Driver driving from Mumbai to Delhi carrying Godrej cupboards one way and rice on the other. He had very humble beginnings and was aware of the ground realities of the industry. He diversified and grew his business in Pune after shifting from Mumbai and slowly moved into ODC (Over Dimensional Cargo), which is where he became the best over time. Even though this article is meant for knowledge sharing. I would like to point out that none of it would have been possible without my parent’s knowledge and support. When we bagged the Castrol contract in 2014 which was one of my first big contracts I had decided we will be their best transporter (which we became in 2016). They are one company I admire as they truly promote safety, most other companies talk about it but don’t put their money where their mouth is. We took the bold decision of taking up their most challenging area at the time (south) which no other transporter was interested in. We had bought the new Bharat Benz trucks and didn’t have an exact idea of the safety risks or if the drivers were giving us the right costing. That’s when I first went on the truck from Mumbai to Hyderabad and I try to make it a point to go every year. These trips not only helped us understand the grass root level issues our drivers face, but also makes us realize how hard their life really is.
DAY 1 (LOADING)
As I was in Castrol Bhiwandi warehouse and we have many drivers of all our transporters waiting for their vehicles to get loaded and unloaded. It was a good time to brief them about safety as 20-30 drivers at one place is good opportunity.
Sabit Ali and I left the premise at 7:30pm and had about 3 hours until our next halt. We barely covered 70 km on the first evening not due to any major delays just that the infrastructure to leave Bhiwandi is so bad. The roads have major potholes and long stretches of bad roads. No truck on the way to the north can go over 20km. I didn’t want us to waste more time as we had to find a safe spot to halt.
We did finally find a good place where the bathrooms were clean and the food was too. This was my first experience with this Veg Muslim chain (most of it owned by them) of hybrid dhabas. I say hybrid as they served the cars and trucks alike. With wide parking spaces and adequate lighting some has cameras as well. If you haven’t been to one these are mostly in the same format. Big and safe parking, food ranging from 50 to 150Rs not very expensive, clean and hygienic food/bathroom. Some places had a convenience store as well.
We had a good full veg meal and two of us racked up a billing of 200 Rs. Which if you live in Mumbai start to realize how crazy we are when we pay at hotels where only the tax is 1/3 this amount. I must admit the first night wasn’t comfortable at all as I was sleeping between the driver and the cleaners seat (a cushion in between). Even though Sabit Ali insisted I take his full bed behind I felt that he needed the rest more than I do. Needless to say I didn’t get my full rest, which is what I realized my cleaner must be experiencing EVERY night.
We started early at 6 am and picked up the pace. We did cover much more km once we were on the highway towards Gujarat. We stopped over at another dhaba for breakfast at 10am. Castrol rules are every 4 hours we need to rest for 1 hour and I understand why this has helped in our safety journey towards 0 incidents. I rested for a while and took a shower (under a tap), which was better than my last trip (that’s where the pool was used as buffalo drinking water and driver bathing alike). This was again in the open but it atleast had running water provided by the same dhaba chain. Apart from the awkward looks from other drivers nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
The dhaba chains were atleast clean food which is what I asked Sabit to be particular about. The road and dhabas seemed far better as we hit Gujarat.
The impact of GST is what I also wanted to understand when the sales tax people used to trouble the drivers they used to pay 400-500 Rs per border to pass through. This is common knowledge and it is calculated in the costing. Now that it is gone should this cost be also removed? No Sir, now they have been replaced by RTO border tax my driver tells me which is again illegal upto the same amount. Nothing has changed. Yes they let you pass though faster so you can clock about 30-40 km more but the money is still gone. I felt the guilt as we kept feeding our way through it was either that or be stopped for the hundreds of useless reasons like owners mobile no is not written on the truck (which will come up later).
Same pattern of 4 hours 1 hour rest and we clocked about 420 km until 11pm. The sleep became more comfortable as the journey moved on. I guess when you are tired it doesn’t really matter what you are sleeping on.
It was the same nothing unusual Sabit would rest and we would share stories about our life and philosophies. The dhabas in Rajasthan weren’t as good as they were in Gujarat nor were the roads. It was in many places roads under construction, which I hope one day gets done. We caught up with some of our drivers who were ahead of us going to Jaipur and had lunch with them. Understood some operational issues etc.
The reason I don’t want to elaborate about the corruption on the highways is then you start to get targeted. I can easily tell the readers who and where what happened but in my honest opinion if the ecosystem is bad you cant punish a few officers in the hope that it will change. A more united effort has to be taken from individuals who have the passion and can make a dent.
DAY 4 & 5 (FINALLY TOOK A STAND)
We caught up with some other drivers on their way back and had similar discussions. The drivers gave me a bitter pill that I should spend more time with them and I understood why. This was the only way my company could understand what was happening on the roads and make provisions accordingly.
Day 4 was a similar pattern and day 5 we tried to enter Delhi. We took a route that was not in the No entry zone. When we entered the Delhi police caught us saying that we were driving on the right most lane. Which as there were no sign boards and we weren’t aware that was the rule in Delhi. As it was Sabit’s first time into Delhi as well he was new to this.
Our Mistake was admitted. We were ready to pay the legal fine (about 2000Rs at max). I had got down from the truck and didn’t change my stand of taking the legal route. Then as they didn’t have any other excuse to charge us for any other wrongdoing so they asked for 5000Rs illegally. Claiming that I had not worn my seatbelt (which I had) and our vehicles owners mobile no was not painted on the truck (as if TCI and Gati do) both false accusations. They threatened that they will cease the vehicle and we will have to release it from court. As I was on the truck and they knew I would have that kind of money they kept the pressure on. I did not budge and our vehicle got ceased. We then took the 2 hours long journey to the compound (seemed more like a dump yard).
I felt defeated. With no breakfast or lunch we got all the formalities completed around 6:30pm. I got down and left for my hotel as I had meetings lined up the next day. The shame that I failed to deliver my cargo on time with the fact that I couldn’t tackle such a simple deal because of my righteousness.
The next day was worse for Sabit he had to go to 4 different places court, then collection, then receipt and finally vehicle. The whole day spent in nothing over which we also got fined about 13,900Rs due to those added false claims. The judge didn’t care less (apparently its on the judges mood claimed the officers) and had so many hearing there was a 3 hour line even though the time was given. Finally the vehicle after more palm greasing was removed and delivered the next day. Welcome to India.