Hyderabad: Life has come to a standstill all over the world due to the pandemic. The story of villagers of Sankhapur halt railway station seems to be the same but in an indirect way. Owing to the pandemic, the Indian government has decided to stop services from 26 halt stations all over India due to the minimal utilization of services. Sankhapur halt railway station in Narsingi mandal in Medak district of Telangana is one among them.
In 2002, the people of Sankhapur met Bangaru Laxman, an MP from the ruling NDA, to sanction a station for their village. It was sanctioned by the government on the condition that villagers must bear the cost of construction. So, the villagers collected an amount of Rs. 300 from every household for the construction of the station. It has one single room for the issuance of tickets and a small, levelled platform for boarding trains. There is no permanent employee to issue tickets at the station as there are only two trains which stop here - one from Hyderabad and another the other way around. A person voluntarily comes just at the time of the trains to issue tickets and leaves once the trains leave. The station is now in a dilapidated state.
The train to Hyderabad is the primary source of income for many households in this village. Some of the villagers took the train to reach the city for work, while some used to work as hawkers selling local produce on the train. One of them used to beg alms on this very train for a living.
"Every day, I used to board the train to Medchal from Sankhapur. At Medchal all the laborers gather at our coolie adda and from there I was offered work. After completing my work, I returned to Sankhapur by the same train. If I didn't get any work that day, I had lunch there and waited for the train and got back home. The train journey didn't cost much because I have a monthly pass," said Valluri Ramulu, a villager of Sankhapur.
Surya, another villager of Sankhapur, said, "I was a construction laborer until the pandemic. Since train services were stopped, I found it difficult to travel to Medchal in search of work. I opened a tea stall in the village to make some money even though this is less than what I used to earn from my daily labor work."
Doragalla Rajesh, a construction worker from Khajapur village in Medak district, now has to travel on a motorbike daily to Kamareddy in search of work after the train services were stopped.
All those who depended on the train are now finding it hard to find work. The cost of travel to reach the city by train was Rs. 50. A monthly pass for the same would have cost Rs. 600. As there is no work here people still travel to Hyderabad by bus which is costlier. Villagers have moved in different directions for work. One of the villagers lost his life while travelling to nearby town Kamareddy for masonry work.
The station was about to be shut down before the pandemic due to low income from ticket sales. The village sarpanch along with the help of VAO took the initiative and made sure everyone bought a ticket at their station and kept the services running. They have two stations nearby where they can board trains.
But as the pandemic struck, the government has converted all unreserved tickets into reserved. There is no advance booking counter at the nearby station. When it comes to booking tickets online, there is a shortage of knowledge amongst the common folk. So, the villagers do not use other stations to board the train. Women laborers have resorted to working on farms since they cannot leave the village by other modes of transportation. The income from farm activities is dwindling since it is seasonal in nature. They have picked up work from different sources for income.
This story has been written by Ranadheer Bakkannagari. He is a software engineer by profession from Hyderabad who is into photojournalism, street photography. He has worked on couple of assignments with Reuters. His photographs has also been featured in Al Jazeera and Instagram account of Apple.
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