Updated: February 12, 2021 7:52:14 pm
The reduced frequency of trains and the appeal of affordable prices have made bus services an integral part of the migrant corridor from Kerala to the eastern and northeastern states in the new, post-Covid era.
A three or four-day journey from Kerala to states like Assam, West Bengal and Odisha by bus would have been unthinkable, both from a commercial as well as comfort perspective. But post-Covid lockdown, bus operators in Kerala have been running daily services from the state’s major cities and migrant hubs to destinations like Domkal in West Bengal, Guwahati in Assam and Bhubaneswar in Odisha to cater to workers’ demand.
For example, there are daily services connecting Perumbavoor, a major migrant hub in Ernakulam district of Kerala, with Guwahati — a distance of over 3500 kilometres across seven states. The trips, conducted by tourist bus operators in Kerala who have been passing through a lean phase due to Covid, invariably start in the evenings and end on the fourth day. Halts are scheduled at select places for food and washroom usage. Operators say the trips take about the same time as superfast trains.
In the initial phase of reopening last year, bus operators stepped into a vacuum created by low frequency of trains and flights to transport thousands of migrant workers from Kerala to their home states, charging hefty prices ranging from Rs 7000 to Rs 10000 per passenger. The buses mostly returned empty.
Sreekumar, an agent in Perumbavoor, said, “I know of so many operators who made crores of rupees during that time by running these services. The contact numbers of operators had gone viral among the migrant worker communities.”
Later, as demand for migrant labour picked up in Kerala with the reopening of the economy, buses were once again put to use: this time, to bring back the workers to Kerala. Private companies, which employed permanent staff, also hired buses on a large scale to bring back their workforce. The travel expenses were sometimes borne entirely by the companies. The ticket rate reduced too to Rs 2000-Rs 3000 per passenger.
These days, Sreekumar handles reservation for a weekly bus service between Perumbavoor and Bhubaneswar. “Our bus leaves Perumbavoor on Mondays around 4 pm, reaching Bhubaneswar on Wednesdays. Thursday is a rest day for drivers. They leave Bhubaneswar on Fridays, reaching here on Sunday. We charge Rs 3300 per passenger from Bhubaneswar to Perumbavoor and Rs 1000-1200 each for the trip back,” he said. The prices exclude food expenses.
Shanowar Hussain, a migrant worker from West Bengal who used to handle reservation for buses in September last year, said workers preferred buses as they could alight close to their villages and hometowns as opposed to trains. Also, those travelling home on an urgent basis prefer buses as it could take weeks to reserve tickets on long-distance trains.
“The train would take them to Howrah, from where they had to board buses again to travel to far-off districts like Malda and Murshidabad. When they travel by bus from here, they can alight close to their villages which helps them save time and money,” he said.
He said a lot of workers, hailing from Assam and West Bengal, are returning to their native states once again to cast their vote in Assembly elections, scheduled in April-May.
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