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NIRUPAMA SEKHRI

India,

By redesigning truck terminals into modern well-equipped centers that cater to the needs, rights, and safety of the drivers, Nirupama Sekhri is systematizing India's trucking industry.

This profile below was prepared when Nirupama Sekhri was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.

Fellow Sketch

Truck drivers have been exploited by transport company owners and overlooked by the government. Nirupama Sekhri started Sukhad Yatra in 2003 to raise awareness on issues like health, rights, safety of truck drivers, encourage positive dialogue and action from transporters and create trucker-friendly terminals. 

Over a period of 6 years, she conducted workshops with transporters at the Sanjay Gandhi Transport Center and two other truck terminals around sub-urban Delhi. These workshops looked at educating transporters about health and legal rights of truck drivers with a strong emphasis on HIV education. She felt approaching transporters who relate to drivers, benefited the truck drivers most. Nirupama also advocated with big truck manufacturing companies like the Tatas and Ashok Leyland to take responsibility for the drivers and change the way transport terminals were designed making them more driver friendly. 

Nirupama also partnered with the Indian branch of the International Association for Intelligent Transport Systems (2002-09) focussing on creating policy papers. These policy papers introduced before the CommonWealth Games looked at using “Intelligent Transport Systems” to make transport and mobility efficient and safe. Nirupama sees opportunities in the data that travellers and transport service providers like bus companies together can generate. She feels that this could be used to manage mobility better. 

A single mother, Nirupama took a sabbatical from work post 2009 and has been teaching English. She plans to work on transport and mobility in the near future and create a platform to enable public participation in the issue. She envisions this platform to allow the public to take discussions mainstream and affect change in how public transport systems are designed.

Note: This was updated in March, 2014. Read on for the ELECTION Profile

INTRODUCTION

By redesigning truck terminals into modern well-equipped centers that cater to the needs, rights, and safety of the drivers, Nirupama Sekhri is systematizing India's trucking industry.




THE NEW IDEA

Over the years, the trucking industry in India has developed in a disorganized, fragmented manner whose main aim is minimizing costs and maximizing profits. Drivers have been exploited by transport owners and truck operators, as well by the government, which has overlooked its duty to ensure safety.

Having identified truck terminals as the primary centers where drivers, operators, and owners congregate, Nirupama is redesigning these terminals to create trucker-friendly centers that will cater to the needs of the drivers and encourage them to take up issues like safety and rights.

Nirupama's intervention is not only timely but also–able potentially–to spread far with the growing geographic expansion of the newer truck terminals. The government of India is currently moving many existing city terminals to new suburban locations.




THE PROBLEM

In India the trucking industry carries over 70 percent of the country's total freight traffic. It is second only to the agriculture industry in the number of people it employs nationwide.

Yet the trucking industry remains invisible to policymakers, in part because of to the nature of a trucker's career. Truckers are primarily independent workers; always in transit, they have limited interaction with each other. Additionally, truck drivers in India have short career spans; irregular hours and long drives impose a heavy toll on their health. As a result, drivers tend to have intense but brief careers, during which they earn as much as they can, paying little heed to longer-term issues affecting truckers generally. Because of this individualistic, opportunistic approach, the industry has developed in a fragmented manner, with profit as its primary driver. In the absence of powerful voices or multinational lobbies, the government, too, has turned a blind eye to the needs of the industry–especially in the area of safety–while continuing to benefit from the various poll and road taxes.

Until now, truck owners have considered only their short-term profits rather than the long-term efficacy of the system, which in its current state exacts high costs in terms of money and life.




THE STRATEGY

Adopting a participatory approach, Nirupama is looking at citizen-based solutions to the existing problems that plague the trucking industry. Typically in India, truck owners purchase allotted space from the government at truck terminals. Nirupama works within the truck terminals–with truck owners, operators, and drivers–to create links among this group and awareness of problems within the industry itself. Through grassroots education, Nirupama brings in the necessary players to work collectively toward solving their problems through action and advocacy. In her efforts, she uses the expertise of other nonprofit organizations and of corporations with direct links to the industry (like chassis-building companies) to introduce services that improve the environmental, economic, and equity-related terminals' conditions. Nirupama wishes to document the process of change in a manual that can be used at truck terminals across the country.

She is also working with other transport-related organizations to advocate for the introduction of "Intelligent Transport Systems"–technology-enabled transport systems that would vastly improve the existing road safety systems of the industry.




THE PERSON

Nirupama was brought up in the army cantonment in the small town of Dehradun. Her father was in the army, and her mother was a teacher in one of the best and most expensive schools in the country. Being from a middle-class family, Nirupama's mother took a teaching job to provide her two daughters a good education–a teacher's children could study in the school for free. Nirupama's mother, a great influence in her life, encouraged her to live her life on her own terms. After graduating with a degree in English literature, Nirupama decided to work as an airline flight attendant to fulfill her wish to travel. A keen self-learner, she explored every city in which she stopped. After working and traveling for six years, she returned home to work for a nonprofit organization focused on preserving India's cultural heritage. It was her fascination with indigenous communities and a suggested reading on freight and its place in the country that led her to research the trucking industry. Soon after, she decided to journey with truck drivers across the country to get an account of their experiences. Accompanied by a British photographer-friend, she traveled across the truck routes of the country, moving from one truck to another in an unplanned manner, sharing the lives of the drivers.

From her truck-traveling experience, she ended up at the transport terminal outside New Delhi where she lives with her mother. The city serves as the base for her work.




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