Ranchi/Mumbai: Over 160 migrant workers were Thursday ferried back home to Jharkhand from Mumbai on a chartered aircraft arranged by the alumni network of a Bengaluru-based law school, the first instance of a charity flight being used to facilitate the return of distressed people during the lockdown, officials said.
The Air Asia flight carrying 169 migrant workers and five children left the western metropolis at 6.25 am and reached Ranchi, the Jharkhand capital, around 8.25 am, an airline spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the National Law School (NLS) alumni association had taken on lease a 180-seater A320 plane, a first such charter operation by the budget carrier since passenger services resumed in the country.
“AirAsia India is proud to be a part of this initiative that helps migrant workers, adversely impacted by the lockdown, reach their homes and families.
“We have been working closely with the organisers, alumni of the National Law School, who we understand have independently crowdfunded their efforts to assist and repatriate migrant workers from Mumbai to Ranchi,” the official said in a statement.
At Ranchi’s Birsa Munda Airport, the migrant workers underwent a medical screening and the administration provided them with food packets, before sending them off to quarantine centres in different districts of Jharkhand in buses.
Expressing gratitude to the alumni association of the law school in Bengaluru, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said, “This is the first time in the country that a plane brought mazdoor back during the lockdown. I appreciate the effort of the Alumni Network of National Law School, Bengaluru.”
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Shyel Trehan, one of those behind the initiative, said in the statement, “We are happy to have made this very small contribution to addressing a massive travesty. I would like to thank AirAsia for all their support.”
“This was a massive group effort with Priya Sharma, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Bombay, and the alumni from the National Law School working together,” Trehan said.
One of the workers, after completing the formalities at the airport, said he would want to thank the law school alumni network and the state for ensuring his safe return.
“I work as a welder in Mumbai. All of us are happy to return. I would like to thank everybody who facilitated our return,” he told reporters.
Soren, on his part, said the state is committed to bringing back all the migrant workers stranded in different corners of the country and in this endeavour, the “government has established communication with the Centre”.
“Labourers have had to walk thousands of kilometres without food or water. And our small and medium industry, which is the country’s backbone and principal source of employment for many, are shutting down one after the other,” Rahul Gandhi said.
He said India does not need credit, it needs cash. “The poor need cash and that is why the Congress in one voice is making four specific demands on the government,” the former party chief said.
Rahul Gandhi reiterated the party’s demands of safe return of migrant to their home states, direct cash transfer to the poor, increased work days under MGNREGA and financial package for the small industry.
Sonia Gandhi lamented that even though the country is passing through a serious economic crisis with loss of livelihood, the central government has not helped those affected.
“It is for the first time since Independence that such a spectre of pain and anguish has been witnessed, where lakhs of famished and thirsty labourers have been forced to walk hundreds of thousands of kilometres back home barefoot and without any access to medicines or transport,” she said.
“Everyone across the country except the government heard their cries of pain and trauma,” she said in her video message on the party’s social media handles.
Sonia Gandhi said instead of loans, the government should provide financial relief to small and medium industry so that crores of jobs are saved and the country progresses.
Noting that crores of livelihoods have been lost, lakhs of businesses and factories shut and farmers are running from pillar to post to sell their produce, she said, “The entire country endured this pain but probably the government did not.”
“We again urge the Centre to unlock its coffers and help the needy. Put direct cash of Rs 7,500 per month in the account of every family for the next six months and provide Rs 10,000 immediately; ensure safe and free travel of labourers back home, employment opportunity and rations; and also increase the number of work days under MNREGA to 200 days to facilitate jobs in villages,” the Congress chief said.
From day one, Congress workers and leaders, economists and social scientists and all leading citizens have told the government repeatedly to come forward and heal the wounds of people and help farmers, labourers, and traders, she recalled.
“We don’t know why the Centre is refusing to understand this issue and implement measures to address it. That is why the Congress has decided that it will run a social campaign to power the voice of India,” she said.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in her video message urged all political parties, especially the BJP, to stop playing politics on this.
“This is not the time to play politics, this is the time when the entire country should unite and when every politician gets together leaving aside his political leanings and differences and come out jointly to help people,” she said.
The Congress hoped the government would at least now hear them out and come out to support the poor, migrants and small businessmen in this time of crisis.
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