The south of India has been home to some of the largest fleet owners who have specialised in transporting goods ranging from small parcels to huge machinery. For decades, companies like TVS and ABT in Tamil Nadu and KTC in Kerala have set up vast networks comprising of booking and delivery depots, transhipment points, and storage units to cater to both individual as well as corporate clients.
Over the years, the simple parcel service turned into logistics services with brands like TVS terming themselves as supply chain solutions providers by offering not just point to point collection and delivery of goods, but a whole gamut of solutions including software and storage facilities, in time supplies, multipoint deliveries depending on manufacturer’s requirements etc.
In the early days of ‘parcel service’, the only service that the transport company would offer was simply, carrying goods from one point to the destination, at a particular fare that was calculated according to the distance the item travelled. Today, the basic activity remains the same – ferrying goods from point to point, but a whole gamut of value additions go into the operation. There are specialised softwares that allow tracking goods at every point of movement. Barcodes and QR codes have become the norm – carrying information regarding the goods, its consignor and consignee etc.
As the operations transformed to include more features and facilities, even ‘logistics’ became passé and a new term – ‘Supply Chain Solutions’ came into being. The slight difference is that many of the logistics companies interacted with manufacturers and EOMs or end users and designed the pickup and delivery of goods meant for production chains, in such a manner that a constant flow of parts and input materials could be planned to coordinate with the factory.
P. V. Subramani, CMD of Cargo Wings, an automobile transportation company and Vice President (South Zone), All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), an apex organisation of truckers, transporters and passenger vehicle operators, told BE, “The AIMTC is representative of most transport operators in India. The South Zone chapter has a vast number of operators from every segment – parcels to large cargo. We have approximately 500 members from Tamil Nadu, 750 from Karnataka, 100 from AP, and 50 from Kerala. If you are to count every transport operator in the business, there would be up to four thousand members.” Cargo Wings themselves own and operate 300 trailer trucks for automobile manufacturers.
Subramani stated, “Unfortunately, ever since the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and the slowing down of the automobile sector, our overall business has also seen a steady decline. One of the main factors for this is the non-stability of diesel prices and restriction on cash dealings beyond a certain limit. The entire system of transportation works on cash and at certain official payment points, online or smart card payments cannot be made.”
For a transport operator, the vast network of road infrastructure is always a concern. In many sectors, quality motorable roads are non-existent and this takes a toll on the vehicle and results in delays. Subramani added, “Instead of improving the road infrastructure and stabilising the cost of diesel as well as improving its quality so that pollution levels can be brought down, the government is talking about shifting to rail and sea transport options for movement of goods. This will only worsen the scenario.”
India Logistics & Supply Chain Association (iLSCA) was formed in 2004 as a non-profit association to promote the importance of ‘Purchasing and Materials Management’ for economic advancement. It was formed by a group of logistics and supply chain professionals from India, having years of experience in the supply chain industry. Anbarasu Thirunavukkarasu, President, iLSCA told BE, “The future growth of India’s logistics sector will be driven by e-commerce logistics and the 'Make in India' initiative. It will provide the potential for logistics and warehousing market in India along with their segments such as the growth of express logistics, 3PL market, e-commerce logistics, freight forwarding market, industrial and agricultural warehousing, and cold chain logistics. At the same time, companies such as Flipkart are disrupting the supply chain with new last mile delivery systems and at the same time, also providing opportunities for the SMEs operating in the logistics sector.”
Chennai Goods Transport Association (CGTA) was established in 1972 by professionals from the industry. The goal was to protect the interests and welfare of transporters. The objectives of CGTA are to cultivate a cohesive spirit of unity among transport operators, to liaise with the government in order to frame various policy matters, to maintain harmonious relationships with staff and labour unions and to carry out welfare activities for the benefit of the transport community.
CGTA has made tremendous progress since its inception and has been growing in size and stature. Today, the membership strength of the association is close to 300 transport companies. Most of the transport companies are national and they have a wide network of branches. These companies operate with more than 10,000 vehicles. The members of CGTA provide employment directly to approximately 30,000 people and indirectly to another 1,50,000.
Pawan Kumar Agarwal, President of CGTA and Director Union Roadways.
Q) What is the present scenario in the transport sector?
A) Over the last few years we have been seeing a steady downward trend in our business. This year itself, we have had a 35% drop in business. While this may seem as a trend all over India, it is also true globally. If some of the major industries are facing a slowdown, it automatically reflects on our business as well.
Q) What is the way forward for the Indian transportation industry?
A) We have to modernise ourselves and reinvent the way we do business. In my own company, we have already set things in motion to embrace alternate and better ways of transportation, for instance, waterways. Some companies are already owning and/or hiring railway rakes for mass transportation. With fuel prices going up and vehicle ownership becoming costlier, as well as, maintenance and managing manpower becoming increasingly difficult, the way forward is to explore alternate modes.
Q) Do the government agencies call for interaction and implementation of suggestions and ideas from transport associations like CGTA?
A) There are regular interactions and invitations of ideas and suggestions. But, most of the time, these do not get acted upon. One of the important suggestions made many years ago was to create bypass roads to allow smooth passage of heavy vehicles. This has started to see the light of the day in recent times.
Q) What about fuel prices?
A) There are no indications of fuel prices ever going down. Electrification is a good option but for that to show results, it will be quite some time. We still do not know how expensive it will be for recharges. Even the costs of vehicles are uncertain. There is a bus manufacturer, JBM which has already received an order for 200 electric buses from Maharashtra.
Some leading logistics players from South India
TVS Supply Chain Solutions is one of the top supply chain management companies in India and is a flagship company of the $8.5 billion TVS Group. It is among the best third party logistics companies in India and provides integrated supply chain solutions across the world directly and/or through joint ventures and subsidiaries. TVS Supply Chain Solutions serves customers in over 50 countries through its 18500 plus skilled work force.
Kerala Transport Company made a humble beginning in the year 1958. From there its growth to the KTC Group, one of the biggest business houses in the state, is simply astounding and marvellous. The group's turnover exceeds `300 crores and its contribution to the various fields is widely appreciated and acclaimed.
ABT, founded by late P. Nachimuthu Gounder way back in 1921 has grown into a well-diversified transport company with more than 350 company-owned containerised vehicles, plying on more than 120 routes spreading across eight states covering more than 500 stations spreading across eight states namely Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry, Goa, Gujarat, and Maharashtra.