Lakshadweep residents bear the brunt of steep hike in air, sea travel fares
Cheriya Koya, 66, a native of Kalpeni Island in Lakshadweep, suffered kidney failure last year. Being a resident of Lakshadweep, he has no option but to go to Kerala for medical care. The residents of the island with terminal illnesses are usually taken to Kochi by air ambulance. Cheriya Koya was airlifted with two family members and was admitted to Lissy Hospital in Kochi. “We spent roughly Rs 6000 for airlifting me, accompanied by my wife and our son. Even that was reimbursed under the health insurance scheme then,” Cheriya Koya told The Federal.
However, people like Koya would be required to pay more for emergency evacuation from Lakshdweep as the subsidised air travel facility has been withdrawn. Additionally, the health insurance benefit too has stopped, thus getting affordable emergency medical care has become difficult for the residents of this Union Territory.
As per the 2021 revised chart, the passenger fare for helicopter service to the main land (Kerala and Karnataka) has been substantially increased, followed by a steep hike in ship fare announced a few days ago.
Same fare for all travellers
Medical evacuation by helicopter is the only way of saving the life of a resident of Lakshadweep in need of critical care. As per the revised fare chart issued by the Lakshadweep administration, a native has to pay anything between Rs 5,000 and Rs 9,000 to reach Kochi, depending upon the distance. So, for example, a person living in Bitra, the farthest island, has to pay Rs 8,290 to reach Kochi by air in case of an emergency. He/she has to spend Rs 25000 only for evacuation if accompanied by two family members.
According to the 2018 chart, the fare for a normal trip from Bitra to Kochi was Rs 7,530, applicable only for normal passengers with exemption for medical emergency patients.
On the contrary, the new order issued in November 2021 states that all residents, irrespective of the purpose of travel, will have to pay the same revised fare henceforth. A resident of Lakshadweep, living on Kavaratti Island, now has to pay Rs 6,920 and one in Ameni has to pay Rs 6,990, for one-way travel to Kochi. A one-way trip from Agatti to Kochi will cost Rs 7,890 and from Minicoy to Kochi will cost Rs 6,820.
Most importantly, these charges are applicable only for the residents of Lakshadweep and government servants posted in Lakshadweep. A non-resident has to pay almost the double for the helicopter service. No exemption is available for them even in case of a medical emergency. A tourist or any non-islander has to pay Rs 15,060 to travel from Bitra Island to Kochi. The non-resident will have to spend Rs 45,000 to reach a hospital in Kochi if accompanied by two other persons. “This is a plain violation of Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees equality. How can a citizen from some other part of the country be treated in a different way? How is it possible to impose a higher fare upon an Indian citizen from other states? A medical emergency is the same for everyone,” said P P Mohammed Faisal, a Member of Parliament from Lakshadweep. Faisal has submitted a representation to Union Home Minister Amit Shah requesting immediate intervention in the matter.
The previous order on fare, issued in 2018, does not make a distinction between residents and non-residents. The fare was uniformly applied for everyone except for those who have a medical emergency.
Besides bringing in parity in helicopter fares, the new rules now deprive residents of Lakshadweep of the insurance cover, which included medical air fare reimbursement. Earlier, the residents of Lakshadweep were covered under a universal health insurance scheme, introduced by the UPA Government in 2013. A total of 5,355 families (22000 individuals) were given insurance under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), Priority House Holds (PHH) and BPL. The schemes extended the benefit of treatment up to Rs 2 lakh for ordinary diseases and Rs 3 lakh for terminal disease in hospitals in Ernakulam, Kozhikkode and Mangalore.
The residents, whom The Federal spoke to, say the insurance scheme was not renewed after its tenure got over. Currently, the residents of Lakshadweep neither get subsidy for air ambulance nor the benefits of health insurance.
Hike in ship fare
The ship fares too have been significantly increased with effect from November 10, 2021. The second class fare from Kochi to Kavaratti, which was Rs 650, has been increased to Rs 1300 — a 100% hike! The ship fare for the first class ticket has been raised from Rs 2,340 to Rs 3,510. Even the lowest, the bunk class, has not been spared. The bunk class ticket from Kochi to Kavaratti was Rs 220, which has now been increased to Rs 320. On the other hand there is no hike in the VIP cabin rate, which is constant at Rs 6,110. These rates are applicable only to the residents of Lakshadweep. A non-resident has to pay Rs 1500 to travel in the bunk class and Rs 3,810 for the second class. The first class ticket fare for a non-resident of Lakshadweep is Rs 5820 (up from Rs 3,380).
Not only the passenger fare, but the fare for goods too has been raised. The carrying charge for essential grocery items like rice and sugar has gone up by 100%. The fare for one metric ton of grocery is Rs 1200 which was only Rs 650 before revision. The ship fare from other ports (Kozhikkode and Mangalore) to Lakshadweep too have gone up.