Filmed by Jyotsna Singh. Graphics by Russell Birkett. Produced by Tom Griggs
Indian trucks, like the ones behind me, are a treat for the eyes with their gaudy decorations and cheerful slogans. Over the years, truckers have had plenty of time to admire the aesthetic merits of each other's vehicles as they spent hours stuck in queues at the checkpoints that marked the borders between India's 29 states. But since the introduction of a historic new tax regime last year, most of those checkpoints have vanished, and Indian truckers now spending more time on the move.
According to a 2014 report from the World Bank, only about 40% of a typical Indian truck journey time was actually spent in motion. Most of the stationary time was spent at state border checks, toll gates, or other regulatory and traffic stoppages. The same report said that the average speed of Indian trucks was only about 20 to 40 kilometres an hour during their journeys, during which they would cover less than 300 kilometres a day on average. That's compared with 450 kilometres in Brazil and 800 in the US. That's been a serious burden on the economy pushing up logistics costs for companies across almost every sector.
But under the new Goods and Services Tax, which came into force last July, state level value added taxes have been subsumed under a single national regime. And that removes the need for tax inspections at state borders. Some in this industry say the impact has already been notable. R&Y Logistics, in the central city of Nagpur, says that its trucks are now covering an average of 325 kilometres a day compared with only 250 under the old tax regime. This year will show how truly meaningful this change could be. But while India's trucks are getting more efficient, nobody is predicting that they will become any less colourful.