The life of Pandian, a small-time Bengal gram vendor on the Tamil Nadu side of the Kumily check-post, is headed for a crisis.
The agitations on either side of the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border over the Mullaperiyar dam during the past eight days have denied him his livelihood. He could not open his rickety shop near the border since the thoroughfare remains blocked by protestors from the neighbouring States.
‘‘During the pilgrim and the tourist seasons, I used to sell fried Bengal gram, banana chips, and groundnut for around Rs.900 a day. These days I could not sell even a single packet,” says Mr. Pandian, sieving the pulses. The agitations have robbed the likes of Mr. Pandian of their livelihood.
As the agitations intensify during the peak tourism season, hundreds are being denied of their livelihood options at Kumily town and its adjoining areas, which are heavily dependent on tourism. Tour operators, hoteliers, tourist guides, and traders complain that they could not cash in on the first half of the tourist season following the strife.
The agitations have forced Syed Mustafa, an autorickshaw driver in Kumili town, into an unprecedented crisis. He is finding it difficult to repay a loan raised from a private moneylender as the income from the autorickshaw has plummeted.
“When people travelled freely across the border, I used to earn around Rs.800 a day, from which I repaid the loan. Now, I am hardly earning what is required for food and fuel,” says Mr. Mustafa, in a worried tone.
The flow of guests to the Periyar Tiger Reserve has thinned following the tension. There are only a few takers for the boat ride in Periyar Lake and eco-tourism activities such as jungle scout, bamboo rafting, border hiking, and jungle walk since the agitation intensified, says an official of the reserve.
Two bullock carts owned by an Eco Development Committee, used for cart rides for tourists, were burned down by protestors causing a loss of Rs.40,000. It is estimated that there has been a 25 per cent reduction in tourism activities and this will be reflected in the revenue earned by the reserve and the committees.
The agitation has impacted Jayasree Viswambharan, a vegetable vendor, in an altogether different manner. She is seeking ways to dispose of the huge quantity of vegetables that are rotting inside her shop.
“Huge quantities of unsold bitter gourd, carrot, and tomato have been damaged causing considerable financial loss. During the pre-agitation days, I used to sell vegetables for around Rs.40,000. As people are scared to come out and shop, sales have plummeted,” she says.
The price of vegetables including beans, onion, and potato has doubled since the agitation. Milk supply from Tamil Nadu has also stopped, she says. The snapping of supply lines has also resulted in price rise and shortage of victuals. In Kumily, everyone is hoping for an early settlement of the issue, hoping to get back to normal life.