At the end of one of his rare mid-week trips home, S. Anbu(28) boarded a bus to Chennai from Tiruvannamalai, only to get a shock even before he began the journey. The conductor said the ticket he had purchased two days ago would not be sufficient. “He said the ticket would cost Rs 110, instead of the Rs.62 charged usually. I had just about enough money to pay for my family that day, but many others fought with the conductor. Some even had to get down.”
It was just the beginning of many more travails for Anbu, his wife Sathya and their children aged 4 and 7. “Both of us work as construction labourers in Sriperumbudur now but we usually go wherever the contractor says. Being unskilled, we sometimes travel to three or four places a day mostly to Guduvancheri or Sembakkam, or wherever new constructions have begun.
Of Rs. 500 that we earn every day, nearly Rs. 170 is spent on transport,” says Anbu, who spends about Rs. 27 to reach Thiruvanmiyur bus stand from his house in Injambakkam. “Earlier, it used to be around Rs. 14. With our construction equipment, we are not allowed in share-autos. So buses are the only option.” “Sometimes, after reaching a site, we realise the sub-contractor has already got the required people and our expenditure goes waste,” adds Sathya.
Contractors seem to prefer workers from other States as they can be provided with housing facilities on the site and they often settle for a lower pay. With fewer jobs and a static pay, the fare hike has wreaked havoc on their budget.
“We used to go home once a fortnight but, now the trip costs Rs. 350 instead of the Rs. 160 earlier,” says Sathya. “Our daughter is small so we take her along to work. We have enrolled our son in the village school. Next year, we we will send our daughter, too. It takes almost Rs.25 to buy her tea and bun thrice a day at the work site,” says Anbu.