‘Most drivers work as manual labourers’: Kashmir transporters do odd jobs to support families as losses mount
Srinagar, May 25: Every morning, 45-year-old Aijaz Ahmad rushes to his porch to clean his cab. A driver by profession, he borrowed a loan from the bank to buy a cab in 2019.
The transition from conductor to a cab owner did not change his fortune. For the last three years, he has mostly remained idle due to back-to-back lockdowns.
With savings drying up and earnings falling, his friends and well-wishers have now chipped in to help him to tide over the crisis. “Hopes were high this year as tourist rush to Kashmir was beyond expectations. All of sudden the situation turned worse. I am unable to pay my monthly loan installments,” he said.
Facing a severe financial crisis, Aijaz is now working as a construction laborer to support his family. “I need to do something to support my family,” he said.
Aijaz is not an isolated case. The majority of the cab and minibus drivers are going through a financial crisis. Some have borrowed small loans from friends and relatives to sustain themselves during the lockdown.
Conservative estimates reveal that Kashmir has witnessed 22 months of lockdown in the last three years which caused a huge loss to trade and business.
Kashmir’s transport sector is the worst hit. As per Kashmir Transporters Welfare Association, the transport sector has incurred more than Rs7000 crore loss due to the lockdowns.
“We have got very limited days of work post-August 5 2019. Losses have mounted to over Rs 7000 crore. The transport sector is on the verge of collapse since it became the first causality of the situation,” said Mohammad Yousuf Sheikh, General Secretary of the Association.
He said at least 60000 transporters and over a lakh of people associated with the sector are going through the worst kind of financial crisis due to the lockdown.
“Many of our drivers and conductors are working as daily wagers. Even some are being helped by NGOs who deliver food kits and other essentials at their homes to survive during the lockdown,” Sheikh said.
He said the government’s revival package has failed to benefit the affected transporters. “We are forced to pay different taxes without any relief from the government. The revival package didn’t help as the relief was given at the last moment and a major proportion of the funding got lapsed,” Sheikh said.