Srinagar: Openly violating the rules and guidelines regarding physical distancing, private Sumo cab drivers across Kashmir valley are exposing passengers to risk of coronavirus infection and charging them double the usual fare for this.
The helpless passengers have no option but to pay the hefty fares and sit crammed with other people, who often do not even wear masks.
“The Sumo drivers are charging double the fares, but more worrying is that we may have to pay with our lives, given the lack of any social distancing inside the vehicles,” said Arif Ahmad, a daily commuter.
With Unlock-2 now in force, the government has not yet allowed movement of public transport in J&K, but given the prolonged lockdown in place in Jammu and Kashmir since last August, the transporters’ fraternity has been severely hit. It seems to be the reason why Sumo cab drivers have hit the roads without taking in account the repercussions, and the fines they’ll be inviting to themselves.
Last month, the transporters, especially minibus owners in Srinagar city, had turned their vehicles into fruit and vegetable carts to earn their livelihood.
“We were the worst sufferers of the post-August 5 lockdown, and our condition remains unchanged in the coronavirus lockdown. How long shall we suffer? Do we need to beg now? If we’re on the roads it is because we have a family to feed at our home,” said Gulzar Ahmad, a cab driver.
He added, “Fuel prices have gone up, and the fare rates have been revised by the government itself. We have been at the receiving end since long, so what should we do? Is the government ready to provide us relief? We need to pay our loans as well; it is the main reason why we charge higher fares at times.”
Passengers from different parts of the valley alleged that the Sumo drivers are resorting to sheer profiteering, and flouting rules right under the nose of police and administration. Though Sumo drivers have been fined at several places for violating the lockdown, they largely remain undeterred and continue to ply on their usual routes.
“While travelling from Anantnag to Srinagar, I was asked to pay 200 rupees, in place of Rs 100. If the fares have been increased by 30%, then it should be 130 rupees. Why aren’t they being checked? Why are the authorities acting as mute spectators?” asked Waseem Ahmad.
Passengers also worry that the drivers packing the vehicle with as many passengers as they can is putting their lives at risk.
A traveller, Ghulam Mohammad, said, “I travelled from Verinag to Qazigund and we were herded like sheep in a Sumo vehicle. If I’m paying double the fare, don’t I deserve to be safe at least?”
Passengers appealed to the administration as well as traffic authorities to put in place a proper mechanism to check and monitor public vehicles, so that they strictly adhere to social distancing norms.
“For travelling from Shalimar to Lal Chowk, the fare that used to be 25 rupees per passenger is now 50 rupees per passenger. Similarly, from Brein to Lal Chowk, it is now 40 rupees in place of 20. We are compelled to travel at such rates in absence of other public transport,” said Naveed Ahmad.
The government has revised passenger fare charges up by 30% across J&K. However, only state transport buses have been allowed to operate, not any other mode of public transport.