TAMIL NADU

They amble down a highway for livelihood

POLLACHI, APRIL 22. For some, it may be an anachronism in this space age of a rover landing on the Mars but for bullock-cart owners, it is a means of transport and source of livelihood.

As if sure of their place under the sun, a caravan of 15 bullock-carts was ambling down the highway from Pollachi to Palakkad in Kerala, oblivious to trucks, cars and buses roaring down the road.

The bullock-carts were loaded with goods from a Pollachi shandy to Kollengode and Nemmara in Palakkad district. The goods were a variety in themselves: grocery including tamarind, chillies and salt, dal, rice and cattlefeed. Some bullock-carts were loaded with plastic pots too — a sure sign that Palakkad is suffering from a drought like Tamil Nadu does and that it is hard up for drinking water. Each of the carts had a hurricane lamp dangling from its belly. The wheels were made of tyres.

Around 1.45 p.m., some bullock-cart owners/drivers unwound the animals from their yoke near Nanjegounderpudur, fed the animals and took rest under roadside trees.

Why were the bullock-carts carrying goods from Pollachi to Kollengode when they can be easily transported by lorries or vans? "They are meant for Kollengode and Nemmara small traders, who have petty shops. They cannot afford to transport them by motor vehicles. The traders come to Pollachi, buy goods and we transport them to Kollengode and Nemmara," says 58-year-old Krishnan, eldest of them, from Kollengode.

It took about 12 hours to cover 48 km. They left Pollachi at 1 p.m. and they would reach their destination at 1 a.m. said K. Padmanabhan, another cart driver, also from Kollengode.

Krishnan says he had been riding the bullock-carts for 40 years on this route and "there is no change in my life at all." He was still struggling to get a square meal a day and was full of angst that "nothing has caused any difference" to his lifestyle.

What has come as a blow now to him and others is a Tamil Nadu Government fiat that bullock- carts be fitted with wheels made of tyres. "The officials say that carts fitted with wooden wheels damage the road. So we have been asked to use tyre wheels. This has cost us more than Rs.15,000 and reduced the number of carts from 40 to 15," Krishnan said.

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