CHENNAI: For many, their families are stranded in the floods. But they were driving thousands of people out of the rain-hit Chennai everyday. They are the unsung heroes of the SETC bus crew, who are working without rest or even a chance to meet their families since the deluge started ravaging the State.
“I’ve been driving for the fourth continuous day without sleep or break. I could not take leave for even a day to meet my family, which was stranded in Cuddalore. My house there is surrounded by water,” said Damodharan, an SETC driver.
Many of the drivers said they haven’t slept for the last 36-48 hours. After the rains, the condition of the buses has worsened. Besides, the crew has to manage with the bad or inundated roads and the swelling crowd.
“It takes two-three hours more than the usual trips because of the poor brakes, worn-out tyres, rains and traffic diversion from damaged roads. But the higher officials still demand we meet the time-limits. So, we have to speed on the roads,” said Suresh, an SETC driver from Madurai, who admits to putting their own and lives of passengers at risk.
But with the unprecedented disaster the State is facing, the SETC drivers did not hesitate to put duty ahead of their family.
Gunasekharan, a conductor operating between Chennai and Chidambaram, said, “There is no one to take care and even provide medicines for my sick wife, who was hospitalised last week, and I was asked to meet the general manager when I applied for leave.”
But most of crew have to handle the huge crowd, some of them turning angry when asked to pay the ticket fare. “Many people think all bus services are free (free only for MTC buses in Chennai) and argue with us,” said Shanmugam, who drives on the Villupuram-Chennai route. Given the huge task before them, the drivers said they hardly got time for a tea-break. “I am diabetic. But I cannot take food on time as I have to drive continuously for 30 hours, since Salem was the only connecting point for lakhs who left Chennai to other southern, western districts,” said a driver on the Chennai-Salem route.
The drivers said proper planning and recruitment of additional hands would have ensured at least a few hours break, even as they were ready to work overtime in such unprecedented disaster.