Ground Report: Traffic jams and an abundance of medical stores in Kurnool mask a larger problem

In Kurnool town, there are two predominant occupations: auto driving and running medical shops. These have become necessities in the absence of any other viable job opportunities.

BySumit Jha

Published May 01, 2024 | 12:00 PMUpdatedMay 01, 2024 | 12:00 PM

Ground Report: Traffic jams and an abundance of medical stores in Kurnool mask a larger problem

As the sun rises, Kurnool town springs into action with a sense of urgency. People hustle and bustle about, either purchasing goods for their homes or hurrying to complete tasks. Unlike the serene calmness of early mornings in big cities, Kurnool buzzes with activity at this hour.

“It’s going to get scorching after 10 am, so we’re trying to wrap up our work early,” remarked a tea seller. The morning temperatures in Kurnool hover around 39 degrees Celsius, climbing to a sweltering 44-45 degrees Celsius by afternoon.

Yet, amidst the sweltering summer morning, there’s a peculiar characteristic about this town, with its population exceeding 2.7 lakh—traffic jams plague every intersection and corner.

An issue which leads to traffic jam

The roads constructed for commuting within the city, which enjoyed being the capital of the newly formed Andhra state between 1953 and 56, were initially well-planned to accommodate the population. However, over the past decade, a multifaceted problem has arisen, making these roads less accessible to the public.

“There are no industries in our area. The municipal corporation maintains the roads, but it can’t create job opportunities. Only industries can provide jobs. To earn income, people either migrate to Hyderabad or Bengaluru. However, those with family commitments and responsibilities choose to stay here. And if they stay, they opt to buy autos and drive around the town,” explained an auto driver T Narsimha to South First.

In the town, autos outnumber cars, and their yellow hue dominates the roads, becoming an integral part of the city’s landscape.

Kurnool ground report

T Narsimha waiting to pick up passengers. (Sumit Jha/South First)

“To attract commuters, autos often stop near street corners or signal posts, further congesting already narrow roads. This exacerbates the town’s traffic issues,” added Mohammed Yunus, a pharma marketing employee.

For Narasimha, the congestion issue goes beyond just autos. He points out that “it’s not only the autos but also the people, mostly coming for medical treatment, who contribute to the problem. They often ask the auto drivers to stop in the middle of the road and navigate through the traffic in a zigzag path, further exacerbating the congestion.”

The town’s traffic officials have erected tent-like structures at various junctions to shield themselves from the intense sunlight and heat during the afternoon hours.

“Most people in the area pursue courses to secure jobs in pharmacies, usually in private colleges. My family couldn’t afford to send me to a pharmacy college, so I studied history. After graduation, the only hope for us is a government job. However, with no job notifications forthcoming, I couldn’t continue waiting at home. I took out a loan to buy an auto, and I’m still repaying it every month. My father also drives an auto. My younger brother is currently in intermediate with a focus on science; we plan to send him to a pharmacy college,” shared Narsimha.

The tradition of aspiring for family members to attend a pharmaceutical college has deep roots in the town’s history.

The big pharma market

The Government General Hospital (GGH) in Kurnool was established in 1956 and stands as one of the largest government hospitals within a 200 km radius, boasting 1,500 beds. True to its name and capacity, individuals from various states, spanning from Telangana’s Gadwal, Nagarkurnool, and Mahabubnagar to neighbouring districts of Kurnool, seek medical care here.

The presence of this medical college has catalyzed healthcare-related developments in the town. Medium-sized private hospitals like Medicover Hospital and Apollo Hospital have also set up their establishments here, drawing people from surrounding areas for medical treatment.

What has also proliferated is the number of medical stores; nearly one in every four shops in the town serves as a pharmacy. “Well, there is nothing else to do here, so everyone in the city in one way or another got into this medical field to get employment, to earn something,” said Yunus.

Kurnool ground report

Muhammed Yunus (Sumit Jha/South First)

“If you ask anyone from the nearby districts why they visit Kurnool, most will cite medical treatment. It’s not just the economically disadvantaged who seek care at GGH but also those preferring private hospitals. As more hospitals, nursing homes, testing labs, and medical stores emerge in the town, so does the demand,” noted Yunus.

“For instance, a surgery that costs ₹50,000 in Hyderabad can be performed here in Kurnool for ₹30,000. Additionally, testing charges are considerably lower than in larger cities,” Yunus elaborated.

“If Kurnool thrives on anything, it’s the healthcare sector. A substantial portion of the town’s populace is employed in medical fields, primarily in pharmaceutical businesses as store owners, salespersons, or in marketing,” Yunus emphasized.

There are two primary avenues for employment in Kurnool: auto driving and the medical field.

“As a holder of an MBA degree, I work in medical sales, engaging with doctors and shopkeepers daily. While I could potentially earn more in cities like Hyderabad, Bengaluru, or Vijayawada, I prioritize family and find sustainability here,” shared Yunus.

For those wishing to remain in the city and secure a lucrative income, pursuing B Pharma to open a shop or work in a pharmacy while simultaneously studying BBA or MBA for marketing roles is a common strategy.

“But newcomers, after passing out, only receive ₹10,000-12,000 per month. While it may suffice for those with family nearby, it doesn’t offer anything lucrative to anyone here,” explained Yunus.

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The volunteers

While preparing Pakoras on the roadside in the Tilaknagar area of Kurnool, Sreelakshmi shared her experience of obtaining her mother-in-law’s death certificate. “Eight years ago, when my mother-in-law passed away, we had to spend ₹2,000 to get her death certificate made. However, last year when my father-in-law passed away, it was done for only ₹200 and delivered to my home, courtesy of volunteers,” she said.

Out of the total 52 municipal wards, 39 fall within the constituency. Before assuming office as chief minister, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy had promised to appoint Village Secretariat Staff and Volunteers to provide around 25 welfare services at the step. Volunteers have been appointed in each ward and started delivering services directly to the residents.

Kurnool ground report

Sreelakshmi (Sumit Jha/ South First)

“Previously, conflicts between neighbours would often escalate, requiring police intervention. But now, besides delivering services, these volunteers also assist in resolving disputes,” remarked Yunus.

The volunteers and schemes have not only caught Sreelakshmi’s attention but also the Amma Vodi Scheme, which provides ₹15,000 into the bank account of mothers who send their children to school. “My two daughters are able to attend school, and we also receive financial support for their expenses,” expressed Sreelakshmi.

“My mother also receives money as my brother attends the intermediate college,” added Narsimha.

However, not everyone is content with all the schemes in the town. “Under the Vahan Mitra scheme, I am eligible for ₹10,000. I have registered my name with the volunteer, but it’s been a year, and I still haven’t received any money. They say my application was rejected because my father already receives benefits,” shared Narsimha.

“Yes, I don’t ask for money for my voluntary work, but I can’t find any other work within a 25-kilometer radius. That’s why I seek this compensation, as I’m unable to find any other source of income,” explained Narsimha.

For some, these schemes appear to be a waste of public money. “When you provide such large sums of money through different schemes, not just Amma Vodi but also through schemes like Pension Kanuka for elderly women, what will they do with ₹3,000? People don’t utilize free money properly. Only when you earn Rs 10 through hard work do you understand the value and become mindful even while spending ₹1,” Yunus criticized.

He also lamented that while the volunteer system is beneficial, the government is squandering the energy of the youth by merely paying them ₹5000.

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The judicial capital dilemma

When Andhra Pradesh separated from the state of Madras in 1953, Kurnool became the capital of the state government. However, this status was short-lived, as within three years, Hyderabad was designated as the capital of United Andhra Pradesh.

United Andhra Pradesh underwent another division, resulting in the creation of two states. The TDP, after assuming power following the separation, announced plans to establish a new capital region in Amaravati.

However, when Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power, he scrapped the previous government’s idea and instead proposed three capitals. He designated Visakhapatnam as the executive capital, while Amaravati and Kurnool were designated as legislative and judicial capitals, respectively.

However, this plan faced legal challenges, putting it in limbo.

For the people of Kurnool, the designation as the judicial capital doesn’t offer much promise.

“When a capital is established in a city, one expects a flurry of activities. But with the main promises of two capitals already directed towards Amaravati and Visakhapatnam, a judicial capital can only bring the high court here. Consequently, only lawyers will find opportunities here, while other unemployment issues will likely persist, with young people opening photocopy shops as a means of employment. This would be the extent of development that reaches our town,” remarked Yunus.

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The political pulse

On Thursday, 25 April, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) candidate TG Bharath led a rally to file his nominations for the legislative assembly election. Despite TDP’s alliance with the BJP, which might suggest a lack of support from minorities, particularly Muslims, the scene in the town, with its substantial Muslim population exceeding 90,000, painted a different picture. Women clad in burqas and men wearing skullcaps were seen waving the TDP’s yellow-flagged symbol of a cycle. During the rally, Bharath himself was briefly seen wearing a skullcap.

“We’ve never had conflicts here based on religion. We’ve lived together for centuries, and members of both communities are affiliated with both parties,” explained Yunus.

TG Bharath is the son of an industrialist, former local MLA, and two-time Rajya Sabha MP from TDP, TG Venkatesh. In the 2019 elections, Bharath lost to YSRCP’s Abdul Hafeez Khan by just over five thousand votes. Interestingly, the YSRCP did not field Hafeez Khan this time, opting instead for a candidate with government experience and a well-known family reputation in the town.

Kurnool ground report

TG Bharath during the rally in Kurnool. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Prior to the election, A Md Imtiaz, a 2009 IAS officer, opted for voluntary retirement. He had served as an additional commissioner for land administration and had closely collaborated with Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. Imtiaz praised the welfare and development initiatives of the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government, prompting his decision to join the YSRCP.

Additionally, Imtiaz is the son-in-law of Dr KM Ismail Hussain, a locally renowned doctor known for his nominal fees. Dr Hussain passed away during the first wave of Covid-19, but his memory still resonates in the town.

Bharath has outlined his own six guarantees to appeal to the voters, promising to develop Kurnool into a Smart City, establish new industries for local youth employment, prioritize women’s safety, ensure the welfare of every household, elevate the Kurnool Government General Hospital to a top-tier multi-speciality hospital, and establish a High Court Bench. He has also pledged not to contest in 2019 if he fails to fulfil any of these promises.

Meanwhile, Imtiaz has pledged to efficiently implement the welfare schemes introduced by the YSRCP government to every household.

However, as locals put it, “The outcome of the election will be determined by two factors: the prevailing political sentiment in the state and the candidate who offers the highest incentives before polling day.”

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