RAICHUR:The Link Express steams into Raichur’s main railway station at 9.30 am every day. Even as it slows down to stop, frantic men and women jump down from the compartments, lunch boxes in hand, and sprint to the exit.
There are motorcycles waiting outside. They belong to brokers or agents of work contractors. A lucky few among these frantic arrivals will get work for the day.
Hundreds of passengers arrive in Raichur every morning from the dust bowls of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana: Villages with names like Kosgi, Bichali, Rajolibanda and Matmari and so on. The construction sector is booming in Raichur and these men and women come to find work.
Twenty-nine-year-old Mallesh has been doing the early morning commute to Raichur every day for the past two years. “My day starts at 5 am,” he says. “I make my lunch, finish the chores and get out. A friend who lives two houses away joins me and we walk 2km, take a bus or share auto to the station. The train comes at 7.30am and I’m in Raichur by 9.30.”
Mallesh and his friend are not the run-of-the-mill drought migrants you see in the rainshadow districts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. They are drought commuters who sleep at home and work abroad.
Mahesh himself is the husband of a small patch of land back home. His parents died three years ago, leaving with some debts. Farming has not been an option in these past few years due to the water shortage. But he feels a responsibility to hold on to the ancestral land left to him. So he joined the army of day-trippers to Raichur.
“I have to pay off the loans,” he says. “I will work anywhere, do anything. From sweeping floors to constructing buildings. As long as it’s legal.” In the beginning he made about `100 a day. Now he makes `400. On a good day `500. But what happens when there’s no motorcycle-borne middleman at the end of the dawn run to Raichur? What happens to the commuters who can’t get work? Such commuters can be seen begging for odd jobs in the houses around the Raichur station. Those who can’t find even that, hop on the 11.30am train back home.
For the middlemen on the motorcycles, the 9.30 am train is a link in a demand-supply system that spans the agrarian world out there in the country and the construction sector in this boom town. Every day at 9.30 am, Lakshmaniah waits outside the station for the Link Express bearing Mahesh and a thousand others to be hired and supplied to contractors at different projects. “During the drought season, we have an abundance of manpower. There’s no farming and the people prefer us rather than MGNREGA because it pays less,” he says. Raichur’s commuter workers are paid Rs 300-350 per day. If someone can paint or plumb, he might make Rs. 400. Women are paid Rs. 200-250 for the same job.
The Raichur run is a distress phenomenon but it has its smileys. Mahesh, the debt-burdened man, rather enjoys his two-hour train journeys. It diverts his mind and he has made friends on the Link Express. “I forget all my worries for a while. We are like one family on the train. We reserve seats for each other, work together and head back in the same train,” he says.
It’s a brisk life with no margin. Everyone brings his or her own lunch for the wage is too slim for a meal at a hotel. Wrap up time is 5.30 pm and the walk back to the railway station is only a little less frantic than in the morning. Down from the train on the other side, there’s still the bus ride back to be essayed, and for most of them, it’s 10 pm by the time they reach home.
Loki, whose return train is at 7.30 pm, says, “I just have a little time to spend with my two sons. I put them to bed. That’s all the time I have with my family.”
He has a 2.4 acre farm. But this has to be done, drought or no drought. “I have to work extra hours to save for my children’s future,” says Loki.
Nanded Express 16594, which starts from Bengaluru and passes through Andhra Pradesh, brings passengers to Raichur early in the morning. It passes through Anantpur (Hindupur, Penukonda, Dharmavaram, Anantpur), Kurnool (Gooty, Guntakal, Adoni), Bellary (Kupgal), Mahbubnagar (Kosgi) and Mantralayam before entering Raichur through Matmari and Raichur town. Besides these travellers, people from Yadgir and Wadi also come to Raichur for work.
People travel to bigger towns from surrounding villages during the drought months (February to May) before the rains in June and make Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 a month if they are lucky to get work. They are paid Rs 300 to Rs 400 a day depending on their skills.
The work is mostly on construction sites, which dot the town centre with many small BPOs and IT companies opening shop here. Raichur also has iron and steel and electrical goods industries, and rice mills. Real estate industry is seeing a spike with many small apartments being built. People who know a specialised work, like painting or plumbing, are paid the highest, and women get paid the lowest, Rs 200 or Rs 250 a day.