The Rising Fuel Prices and the Plight of Taxi Drivers in Sikkim
With the lockdown restrictions having eased a little and the government of Sikkim allowing taxi movement within the districts from June 14, 2021, the local taxi drivers are gearing up to begin plying their services. The pandemic and the lockdown that has followed it over the past year has taken a toll on the taxi drivers in the State. With their livelihood and existence challenged, they have been finding it difficult to make ends meet.
Alongside the general rise in the price of basic commodities which includes groceries and vegetables, the intermittent lockdowns had already affected their livelihoods. And now as they are preparing to run services within the district, the hike in petrol and diesel prices have made things impossible for them to cope with. In June 2020, the price of diesel was Rs. 63.75 per litre and in a year’s time, the prices have gone up to Rs. 89.50. Similarly, petrol prices have gone up from Rs. 72.85 to 97.20 per litre in the past year. With the prices of fuel increasing by the week, added with the inflating cost of living, people whose jobs revolve around daily income have taken a beating.
Sandeep, a taxi driver who runs between Manipal and Gangtok, says, “The last one year has been really difficult. Before that, there was a balance in income. During tourist seasons, there was a lot of demand for local sightseeing and if I got lucky, I would get longer trips. And even during the non-season, I used to get enough passengers during my regular trips. But after the lockdown, the number of tourists visiting have decreased, and even the ones that come mostly visit on organized tours. And regular customers had also decreased as number of people commuting had come down. And with the universities and colleges being closed, regular students have also stopped using the cabs.
With no income at all, and the prices of everything increasing, I really don’t know how to manage.
In such times when the fare is increased even by Rs. 5, the people seem to be getting offended with us. I do understand this pandemic has affected everyone, but it has affected us to a greater extent.”
While speaking to Mr. Tara Thatal, the president of Titanic Local Taxi Association, he said, “Many of our drivers are facing a lot of issues during this pandemic. We have come together and formed a Central Joint Action Committee that consists of representatives of other local taxi associations to address the issue.” Mr. Chung Chung Bhutia, the president of Deorali Taxi Association, who is also a member of the Committee appeals to the general public to be more sensitive to the situation. He says, “Everyone is facing problems during this crisis. Our intention is not blame anyone as the pandemic has hit everyone in different ways. But with the increasing fuel price and the increasing cost of living, our drivers are finding it difficult to manage their lives. Though there is an issue, the pandemic hasn’t put an end to expenses like grocery needs, school fees, etc.” He further mentions that he expresses his gratitude to many house owners who have been sensitive to the issues faced by the drivers and made reductions in terms of rent. But one major issue that has to be addressed is that of the odd-even system that has come to practice in Gangtok.
According to the odd-even system, introduced by the latest government notification, vehicles ending with odd registration numbers are only allowed to travel on odd dates and even numbers on even dates.
This has pushed the taxi drivers to earn what they used to in 30 days, in a span of 15 days. And with the current closure of road due to the recent landslide ion Gangtok, the cabs have to take a longer route to cover the trips between the same destinations. This has definitely impacted the drivers.
He further adds, “We are thinking of increasing the fares in a way that it doesn’t impact the commuters much, but at the same time, assists the drivers to meet the demands of the increasing prices of fuel and basic commodities.
In these times, it is essential of everyone in the society to show more empathy and be sensitive to the needs of the ones who are struggling. It is possible to fight this pandemic that has affected us all, by coming together and being human beings and lending our hands to the ones in need. This is presumably one way to regain the balance in the society.
By Vaidyanath Nishant. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org