Srinagar: Under a scorching sun, 47-year- old Mehraj-ud-din Bhat is anxiously waiting for a phone call outside his home at Naqashpora in Old Srinagar city.
Bhat, a mini-bus driver with an experience of 30 years, is hoping to get a job of a construction worker. For Bhat, it is a hard choice since he has been jobless for the last three months.
“There is no hope that transport will be allowed in Srinagar. I can’t see my family suffering. I am eagerly waiting to get some work to manage at least my household expenses,” he said.
Bhat, a local minibus driver had spent almost a year without any work, including a six-month-long shutdown post abrogation of article 370 in 2019. The three -month COVID lockdown proved a proverbial last nail in the coffin.
2019-20 has been the worst year for Bhat since the onset of turmoil 30 years ago. A lone breadwinner of the six-member family, Bhat has exhausted all his savings in the last few months.
With nothing left, he has decided to take up a job of a construction laborer to feed his family. Earlier, he dabbled on selling tea but he had to shut his stall as people feared to visit him.
“For a week, I had to wait for customers. People are really scared to have a cup of tea outside their homes. Ultimately I had to give up the idea,” Bhat said.
Bhat 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 during the lockdown.
Earlier this month, a photo of a 47-years old driver selling fruits and vegetables in his minibus became viral on social media.
Chairman All Kashmir Transporters Welfare Association, Shabir Ahmad Matt said the condition of cab and minibus driver was similar to that of Bhat and Zahoor.
Matt said the transport sector has incurred 10,000 crore loss due to the shutdown.
“Nearly 2.5 lakh people are associated with the transport sector. We don’t understand why the government is not allowing public transport when their SRTC buses are already plying on roads. We appeal the government to announce relief and come up with SOPs for the transport sector,” he said.