RANIPET: The pandemic-induced lockdown has thrown life out of gear for over one lakh people who had been commuting for work between Arakkonam and Chennai every day. Both government employees and private company workers, including daily-wage earners, have been using the suburban trains to reach their work place every day, till the lockdown first led to suspension of their services, and the subsequent decision to Unlock only led to their partial resumption.
Now, only very few suburban trains are being operated between Arakkonam and Chennai every day, against the 102 trains earlier that included electric multiple units and Mainline Electric Multiple Units.Besides, only staff of government establishments have been allowed to use the services, leaving several thousands in the lurch.
“I had been working at a goods transport company in Pulianthope. I used to take the suburban train. Ever since the lockdown was announced, I couldn’t go to work. Many like me have lost their livelihood. I am still not able to go to work and am forced to borrow money to run my family,” rues S Srinivasan of Arakkonam.
For Senthilkumar, a maintenance engineer working in a private school in Chennai, life has never been more difficult. “Once the bus services resumed, I started to go to work. But I have to hop on and off at least three buses to reach my workplace on Old Mahabalipuram Road. Bus fare isn’t very affordable as I have to spend at least `150 every day. This dents my budget,” he says.
Those living in the suburbs have also been facing the problem of reduced frequency of bus services, forced many to take their two-wheelers to work. Says Durai Rajendran, an engineer at a company in Madhavaram, “It takes a total of five to six hours every day, commuting to and from office. The travel is tedious and the monthly fuel cost comes to around one fourth of my salary.”
The commute by road is so time consuming that many of them have chosen to stay in Chennai, away from their families. S Kavitha, staff of an export-import company at Parry’s Corner, says, “I have to stay in Chennai, away from my husband, as I have to report for duty. Earlier, I used to work from home. But, I work from office now owing to manpower shortage. For some time, I stayed in a hostel and then, a relative’s house. I have now decided to go back home and travel to work by bus. It might take six hours up and down, but I don’t have an option.”
Workers in Arakkonam question the rationale behind not allowing them to use the suburban trains, while shops, malls and markets, which attract a huge crowd every day, are open. They allege that pleas submitted to the authorities concerned haven’t yielded any positive result.
“The authorities should operate more suburban trains to allow private firm employees and workers to commute to Chennai. Social distancing and other precautions can be strictly enforced onboard the trains and at stations,” says Naina Masilamani, president of Arakkonam Rail Users’ Association and member of Chennai Divisional Rail Users’ Consultative Committee.
Currently, 11 rakes are being run on both directions between Arakkonam and Chennai for ferrying employees of government establishments.