‘Stigmatised, can’t pay EMIs’: Cabbies in Telangana want tests, not 28-day quarantine

Telangana has been placing cab drivers undertaking intra-state and inter-state trips on mandatory 28-day quarantine.
taxi drivers in Telangana making interstate travel face 28 day quarantine
taxi drivers in Telangana making interstate travel face 28 day quarantine
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Inter-state travellers arriving in Telangana via any mode of transport have to undergo a 28-day home quarantine. But, for many cab drivers who took short trips to other states during the lockdown period, the rule has already dealt a heavy blow to their livelihood. They say that the quarantine stamps marked by the police on their person and the quarantine stickers pasted on their homes by municipal officials have had a stigmatising effect on their lives.

“The neighbouring kirana stores have stopped giving us goods. My wife went recently and was denied service,” says Srinivas, a cab driver from Hyderabad who went to Andhra Pradesh on May 5.

“The whole trip lasted just 10 hours. I didn’t even step out of the car, I carried my own water and food. But while re-entering Telangana, I was stamped in the hand by the police at the check-post,” says the driver who has since been under quarantine at home.

“The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) officials visited my home, they came a couple of times with a few days’ gap, but pasting the quarantine sticker before the house was not required,” he adds.

Ever since the lockdown began, app-based ride-hailing services have been suspended in Telangana. Services were allowed to resume only on May 18. Cabs are only permitted to ply with two passengers, as part of the government’s rules relaxing lockdown measures.

Unable to resume duty, cab drivers now under quarantine are losing out on economic prospects. The drivers say that they should be tested upon entering the state and allowed to return to normal life.

“I have an EMI of Rs 6,000 and I haven’t paid it for two months,” says a worried Dharavath Bikshapathi Nayak, a cab driver from Uppal, who took a trip to Andhra Pradesh to drop off a stranded pregnant woman.

“I had taken all precautions. The trip was barely 5 km into Andhra Pradesh. I didn’t even step out of the car. They should just test us and not force us to undergo this 28-day quarantine,” he laments.

Dharavath says that the Rs 12,000 he charged for the trip was meant to cover fuel costs, his EMI for one month and some cash in hand for his family. “In my village, people are avoiding my family. They are stigmatising us,” he says.

According to the Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers (IFAT), a solidarity network for transport unions, there have been at least 80 cases within the week where drivers have been stamped on entering Hyderabad.

“It is shocking that the police and the government refuse to acknowledge us as frontline workers. We are serving those who are stranded and in turn, being denied a livelihood as we are locked up in our homes for 28 days,” said Shaik Salauddin, National General Secretary of IFAT, through a press statement.

IFAT alleged that passengers leaving Hyderabad are first tested and only then allowed to leave, if tested negative. The association demanded that the Telangana government test drivers and not subject them to quarantine.

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