Those who wish to return home also have to find 30 travellers to the same destination for the bus to make the journey.

At Bengalurus bus stand migrant workers have to pay exorbitant fares to get home
news Coronavirus Saturday, May 02, 2020 - 16:23

“Hubballi Hubballi,” Santosh yells through his make-shift mask as he makes his way through a crowd of people inside the third terminal of the Majestic Bus Stand in Bengaluru.

“Is anyone here going to Hubballi?” he asks, scrutinising the faces staring back at him hoping to find someone travelling to his hometown.

Forty-three-year-old Santosh, who works at a shop in Bengaluru, is desperate to find two more people headed to Hubballi, 413 km away from the city. “I had come here (to the bus stand) yesterday (Friday) but I could not go home. Only if we find 30 people willing to pay for a ticket to Hubballi, the officials will allow the bus to leave the bus stand,” says Santosh, referring to the red and white Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus parked in the bus stand. 

Santosh (pictured left) speaks to a fellow traveller at the Majestic Bus Stand, Bengaluru

“Normally, it takes around 400 rupees but today we have paid Rs 1239. The prices are three times higher than the normal price but do we have any other choice? We are desperate and we want to go home,” says Santosh pointing to a group of people who are with him.

Hundreds like Santosh turned up at the Majestic Bus Stand in Bengaluru on Saturday morning hoping to find buses to take them home. There were construction workers, students, electricians and carpenters, among those looking for a ticket home. Many of the workers were left without work ever since the start of the lockdown period over the coronavirus outbreak on March 25.

On a sheet of paper stuck to the wall at the entrance of the terminal, the charges for dropping people to different towns in Karnataka were listed.  “We are booking a bus as per the specific request. We are arranging buses for a group of 30 people on a contract basis at Rs 39 per kilometre. We are not issuing individual tickets to passengers," Prabhakar Reddy, Divisional Controller, Bengaluru Central (KSRTC) told TNM.

Prices listed by KSRTC for transporting people

“The prices are three times higher because the buses are taking only 30 people even though there are 55 seats. We are charging the minimum fare of Rs 39 per kilometre and we are also counting the fare for the return trip the bus has to take to come back to Bengaluru,” KL Manjunath, a KSRTC official told TNM. 

But the decision to charge a high amount to transport people was met with anger by hundreds of migrant workers who lined up at the bus stand on Saturday. 

Thirty-eight-year-old Nirmala, a construction worker at Chickpet in Bengaluru, had walked to the Majestic Bus Stand in the hope of finding a bus to take her and her family of four to Yadgir district. But she was taken aback when she found out that she had to pay Rs 1411 per person for taking the bus. She also had to wait till 30 people enlisted to go to Yadgir.

Nirmala (pictured right) at the Majestic Bus Stand, Bengaluru

“There is no drinking water facility here and the ladies washroom is in a poor condition. All my money is also spent in arranging transport for my family. Shouldn’t the state government bear the expenses of sending us back home?” Nirmala asks.

The workers also pointed out that there was no physical distancing followed at the bus stand. “How can we follow physical distancing when we have to find people who are going to the same place as us? The officials are unresponsive and are not taking the step of arranging the transport for us,” asks Praveen, a student at University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering (UVCE) who was looking to go to Hubballi. 

The buses were arranged only for those who wanted to travel home in Karnataka and not for those who are from other states. Even though 28 towns were listed as destinations, buses were only going to a few towns in Karnataka if 30 people signed up to go. “We are not arranging buses to places like Mysuru which are red zones. We are also not arranging buses to places where there are only 10-20 people looking to go. We will be giving preference to the places where a large number of people are going,” says KL Manjunath, a KSRTC official.  

After the appeals of the workers were shared with the state government, Karnataka Education Minister S Suresh Kumar clarified that only ‘single fare’ will be charged for workers seeking to go home. But by the time, the clarification was issued, multiple buses had already left Bengaluru for Kalaburagi and Yadgir with workers who had paid exorbitant prices for the transport. 

Over 14,000 migrant workers were transported between April 24 and 30 for free after the district administrations paid for the fares of the workers. It is in the last two days that workers are being charged Rs. 39 per km and toll charges along the way. The issue was also highlighted by Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President DK Shivakumar on Friday. “It is a shame they are asked to pay for travel and food. We will be compelled to protest against the government if poor people are troubled,” he said in a social media post. 

Activists working in Bengaluru called for the state government to ensure that workers are sent home without charging them. “We demand that the state government pay for free travel and food for all migrant workers and not use the workers' funds anymore or collect money from them,” Vinay Sreenivasa, a Bengaluru-based activist told TNM. 

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