The Hungry Ride

Busloads are exiting their villages for the city
The Hungry Ride
K.R. Vinayan
The Hungry Ride

About 15 km from Narayanpet town in Mahabubnagar district, you encounter Unduchelemithanda. Surrounded by empty fields, this village of 40-odd farming households is almost entirely deserted. Nearly every adult has migrated to Mumbai or Pune to work as a construction labourer. In the few hamlets where doors are open, ageing village folk tend to grandchildren left behind in their care. Among them is 62-year-old Nandu Naik, who is feeding his gra­nddaughter when we meet him. His son and daughter-in-law have left for Khar­gar area in Mumbai to work as labourers. “Owing to the drought last year,” he says, “they had to leave in November itself for work. Generally, they wait till March.”

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This is one of the villages where concrete houses had replaced thatched roofs in the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s rule as CM. But agricultural distress runs through the soil like a raging fever. Each family that owns 1-3 acres finds it impossible to cultivate anything given the lack of irrigation and scanty rainfall. Inept implementation of NREGA, rising prices of essential commodities and drought magnify rural distress, says farmers’ consortium leader Prabhakar Reddy. “NREGA focuses on land levelling and road development, not increa­sing food production,” he says. “The very economics of our agriculture is anti-farmer. Besides, rice might be Re 1 per kg but people spend a fortune on other food. Hence, they prefer to migrate to places where there is a cash flow.”

Known as a weavers’ town and famous for its handloom saris, Narayanpet wears an air of silent cynicism. The bus stand is the busiest place here. Hordes of villagers wait with gunny bags of rice or cloth bundles for the next bus to take them to Gulbarga, Bangalore, Mumbai or Pune. A ticket to Mumbai costs Rs 700, a princely sum for many, but route to a daily income that Narayanpet stopped giving them long ago.

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“Over the last two months or so, we are sending a bus to pick up villagers from Kotakonda, Koilakonda, Kollampally, Perapalla, Rajeevthanda, Rajapur, Sanganonipally, Boinapally. On an average, 30 people head for Mumbai, Kurla and Pune every day,” says traffic sup­erintendent Kavita Rathod at the Narayan­pet bus depot. A month ago, villagers had demanded an extra bus to Mumbai. “This situation continues till June,” says Kavita, reiterating what Nandu Naik has said earlier: drought has hastened early migration this year, by almost three months.

As the Telangana Road State Transport Corporation bus arrives at 2.30 pm, many more pile on. Their modest belongings and rice bags fill every empty inch on the bus. Every migrant has the same story: unviable agriculture, not enough NREGA wages or work and a struggle to make ends meet.

By Madhavi Tata in Mahabubnagar, Telangana

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