People dependant on motor driven vehicles for livelihood face horrendous time

This is how a popular joke goes: A young man told his friend that he had a shock with his parakeet one day. The bird had taken two or three beak full of petrol that he had accidentally poured in a bowl. After the drink, it gave a strangled squawk, flew straight up and hit the ceiling and then flew three times around the room, going faster and faster.

“Oh! My God,” exclaimed the friend as the young man went on to state that thereafter, the parakeet flew into the hall, into the kitchen, out of the kitchen, back into the hall, up the stairs and into the bathroom. Then, it flew straight at the mirror, smacked its little head crack against the glass and fell into the sink. And there it lay, prone and not moving. “Was it dead?” asked the curious friend and the young man replied: “No, it had just run out of fuel.”

It sounds good for a joke. But, in reality, even mere mentioning of the word ‘petrol’ invites a ballad of woes from many, wrinkles of worry on the faces of some and deep sighs from others. The recent increase in petrol prices has left a majority of the city residents and their vehicles’ fuel tanks high and dry as they know not how to cope with the fluctuating fuel costs. Those affected most are poor traders and labourers who depend on motor driven vehicles for their livelihood.

It is a common sight for one to see jasmine cultivators around Avaniapuram ride their two-wheelers at a tremendous speed on the Ring Road, chasing private buses heading to various southern districts. Asked why they risk their lives by riding at such high speed, one of them said that they had no other go. Flowers are a perishable commodity and they had to be sent to their trade destinations as soon as they are plucked. And to load the goods in the buses on time, they require high powered motorcycles which consume more petrol compared to mopeds.

It is also a similar issue with R. Ponnusamy, a purveyor who supplies ‘murukku,’ chips and packets of other snacks to petty shops around the city. “I and my wife prepare these eatables at our home with the help of two other employees. I have to spend quite a lot on purchasing the ingredients and edible oil whose prices have skyrocketed in the last few years and then on paying the salaries for the employees who also demand a handful in view of increasing cost of living.

“It does not end with that. I have to shell out huge amounts of fuel both for burning my stove and riding my two-wheeler. After sweating it out in the kitchen and then toiling hard in the hot sun running around from shop to shop to deliver the goods, all that I get is just 50 to 75 paise per packet of snacks. Now compare this with the increase in prices of petrol. I have no choice but to increase the cost of the goods at the risk of losing many customers,” he rues.

K. Kannan, a domestic gas delivery boy, says that all that his gas agency gives him is just Re.1 for every cylinder delivered. The amount is paid at the end of every month and he delivers about 20 cylinders a day. Apart from this sum, he is given a tri-cycle to carry the cylinders. But due to the arduous task of manoeuvring the three-wheeler in the tattered roads under the hot sun, he prefers to deliver the cylinders in his scooter fitted with a bulky iron holder at the rear.

“I had spent Rs. 900 to fabricate the iron holder. My earnings come basically from the tips that I get from each household and the amount varies between Rs. 10 to 20 from each house. Some customers are generous. But many are not. I have to take care of my personal needs as well as contribute to the family from my earnings. The recent increase in petrol prices is certainly going to burn a hole in my pocket,” he says with a sigh.

S. Vetrivel, an auto-rickshaw driver, says that most of the petrol driven three-wheelers in the city would have halted operations if not for auto-gas. “Petrol along with engine oil would cost me around Rs. 90 a litre, whereas the auto gas costs about Rs. 48 a litre. The mileage would be about 25 kilometres in gas as against 30 kilometres in petrol. Therefore, gas is like god for people like me,” he adds.

If this was the plight of those dependant on day to day earnings for their survival, the rues of the graduates working as salesmen and medical representatives, zipping through the roads in their two-wheelers wearing a collar tie even in the hot summer, is no different. One such youngster, S. Vijayaraghavan, says that the recent hike in fuel prices would not even match his annual increment in salary.

“I travel around 70 kilometres a day and the travel allowance paid by the company is nothing compared to the amount of money I have to spend on fuel. I cannot also afford to shun my high powered motorbike, a fuel guzzler, as only it could take me to my clients on time. It would have been very kind of the petroleum companies if they had avoided a steep increase,” he laments.

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