Srinagar: There is no joy yet among the large number of transporters in Kashmir who have been allowed to resume their work from Monday after remaining shut for almost nine months. It will take them a long time to recover from the loss of business they have suffered.
For most of the nearly one-and-a-half lakh people earning their livelihood from transport operations in Kashmir, the prospect of earning enough is still rather bleak.
“The amount of money required to keep ourselves afloat will not come anytome soon, given the circumstances in which we have to operate,” said Ali Muhammad, a 55-year-old driver.
Private transport will hit the roads for the first time since March this year, when the government shut it down amid fears of Covid-19 contraction. Before March, transport services had operated for three months only since the August 2019 lockdown was imposed by the Government of India.
Muhammad said that a sizeable amount of money has to be repaid for loans owned to banks, insurance companies, taxes to the government, and maintenance of the vehicle.
“On average, Rs 1,000 is the minimum that a vehicle owner has to pay every day for the vehicle. If we add driver’s pay, it comes to Rs 2,000 a day. No one sees that kind of money coming in the present situation,” Muhammad said.
The government’s conditions, which reduce the number of passengers that can be ferried in a vehicle, and people’s fear of avoiding public transport for safety, are the two main challenges that the transporters see ahead of them.
Muntazir Ahmad, another driver, said he had a bank loan which is supposed to be repaid by 2021. Both he and Muhammad have already missed a number of monthly instalments.
During the lockdown, while they were unable to make any money, their families survived on the support of the community. Muhammad has to bear expenses of Rs 5,000 a month on medicines. A local NGO paid for that. Food was provided for by another. But for expenditures on the vehicle there is no help. Muntazir, who is newly married, has also depended on charity during the lockdown.
Secretary of the Kashmir Transporters Welfare Association, Sheikh Muhammad Yusuf, said that all transporters are facing the same situation. He said there has been no help from the government during the lockdown despite many assurances.
Meanwhile, an order issued by District Magistrate Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary said that markets will open with 50 percent shops from 11 am to 5 pm from today.
The decision to allow reopening of shops and resumption of operation of public transport service has been taken after careful consideration of different aspects of the situation as it exists in the district, it said.
In all markets, alternate shops will open so as to prevent crowding and to enable queuing of customers as per the advised distancing norm. “Market associations will decide the roster and ensure strict implementation thereof. The decision in this regard follows consultations with trade bodies and market associations of the district,” it said.
The DM said the district administration has full faith in the business and trading communities of the district and is sure that there will be strict compliance with all SOPs and guidelines like wearing of face masks and observance of distancing while going about their businesses.