Vanidhas, completed his Bachelors in Biology course and started to work in a private company as a researcher to identify plants available in Valparai. After working for a year, Vanidhas quit his job due to salary issues and travelled back to his hometown of Topslip near Valparai with dreams of finding a similar job. However, a year later, Vanidhas now works as a daily wage labourer in Topslip and does social work, all because of lack of a public transportation system in his hometown. The lack of bus services has also forced many people to remain unemployed in the tribal hamlets around Valparai and Pollachi.
In Tamil Nadu, public transportation resumed with partial bus services in select districts post the coronavirus induced complete lockdown in June. However, the tribal settlements near Valparai and Pollachi including Top Slip, Erumai Parai, Kozhikamuthi, Varagaliyar and Kumati are yet to get the green signal for restarting public transportation even after 10 months of curbs. This has forced the tribals to step up their demand for resumption of public transportation services.
Demand to resume bus service
The lack of transportation has forced tribals to spend thousands of rupees to travel to towns from the hilly terrains even as they are reeling under severe poverty due to the pandemic-induced lockdown and unemployment. â€śEven for buying essentials, people are expected to travel till Anaikatti for which a minimum Rs 3,000 needs to be shelled out by a group of 4-5 members. Even for receiving pension or assistance of a few thousand rupees from the government, they are made to spend twice or thrice that amount. As a result, the elderly and disabled people are made to suffer,â€ť said Vanidhas.
Like Vanidhas, other people also said that they spend more on travelling than on the original purchase. Another woman from Erumaiparai settlement, Dhanam said, â€śIf bus services resume, then we can just spend Rs 50 on our travel and save the remaining money for our other needs. However, now we are earning Rs 300 per day and spending over Rs 3,000 just on travel.â€ť This puts a huge burden on us, she said.
â€śEven during an emergency, we have to spend Rs 3,000 for travel just to get admitted at a government hospital in Anamalai. Even for withdrawing Rs 1,000 from a bank, we have to travel to SBI in Anamalai by spending Rs 3,000,â€ť Dhanam rued.
Many people who are unable to travel till Coimbatore and Pollachi are left jobless in the tribal hamlets. â€śPeople are unable to go for work including at construction sites due to lack of government buses. We get jobs in Pollachi or Coimbatore but now everyone is forced to work with the forest department due to lack of transportation,â€ť said Vanidhas.
Looking at the situation, Vanidhas and a team of four educated youngsters in Topslip are now helping the villagers reach the city in private vehicles for finishing their work. However, the volunteers are unable to continue helping without adequate funds and have urged the government to restart the public transport services as soon as possible.
In nearby Valparai, tourist activities have resumed with e-pass and tourism has also restarted in many major hubs. However, the residents question the reason for delay in resuming transport services in the tribal hamlets. The tribals have urged the Tamil Nadu government and district administration to resume partial or special transportation services for locals to travel to cities and towns.