‘Every time I hope things will get better, they get worse’

Thousands who provided public transport are without any help from the government that has destroyed their livelihood by banning public transport

‘Every time I hope things will get better, they get worse’

Thousands who provided public transport are without any help from the government that has destroyed their livelihood by banning public transport

Srinagar: People who earn their livelihood by providing transport services are in dire straits due to past 10 months of lockdown in Kashmir. Just when the lockdown imposed in August last year was being relaxed early this year, the coronavirus pandemic caused an even stricter lockdown in which all types of public transport were banned by the authorities. Buses, mini buses, maxi cabs, and auto rickshaws have all been lying idle since March.

“It is the circumstances that have made me poor. People who know me do not believe that I am struggling for two meals,” said Aijaz Ahmad, a driver.

Farooq Ahmad, a mini-bus driver, said, “The government has provided different schemes for widows, loan takers, farmers, etc, but what about us?”

People associated with the transport sector in Kashmir have been suffering for many years now due to frequent and prolonged lockdowns. “We suffer always, whether it is in 2008 or 2010, 2016 or 2019. Now, in 2020, we don’t even know when the situation will be normal again,” Farooq said.

Mushtaq Ahmad, another mini-bus driver, said he was the sole breadwinner of his family. “I have not been in a position to earn for the past many months now. If such conditions persist, I would have no option but to commit suicide, along with my family,” he said.

Umer Ahmad, a bus driver, rued, “We had started looking ahead after last year’s losses but our hopes came crashing down when this lockdown was announced. Whenever I hope that condition will get better, they get worse.”

As per official records, there are more than 1,500 passengers buses, 4,000 mini buses, 20,000 Tata Sumo cabs in Kashmir that serve as public transport.

Auto-rickshaw drivers are another lot who are in misery. “I have no other job. Even maintaining the home is becoming difficult,” said Irfan Ahmad, an auto-rickshaw driver.

He said that the government should provide some relief for the transport sector. “If somehow the situation becomes normal in the coming months, the transport sector will still be affected as people will maintain social distancing while travelling,” he said.

Sheikh Mohammad Yousuf, general secretary of the transporters’ welfare association, Kashmir, said that instead of any relief, the government has increased by 50% the tax on all types of commercial vehicles and levied a 24% surcharge on petrol and 16% on diesel.

“There are about 50,000 commercial vehicles and people associated with public transport. They have no livelihood and they have been badly hit by successive lockdowns,” Yousuf said.

He said vehicle owners should be compensated as it is the government that has imposed the lockdown, while drivers and conductors should be provided financial assistance immediately.

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