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In a novel initiative, former students of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU) have raised over Rs 12 lakh in less than half a day to lease an aircraft in order to fly 180 migrant labourers from Mumbai to Ranchi amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
Speaking to Bar and Bench, Shyel Trehan, one of the members who led the initiative, said that the initial plan was to transport the migrant workers via bus, the cost of which was only marginally lesser compared to booking a flight.
Priyanka Roy, another NLSIU alumni involved in the initiative, said,
"We initially planned to send a small group of people on regular commercial flights. We had organized for 45 tickets, but the flight was cancelled last minute, as the Maharashtra government allowed only 25 flights per day. We went back to the drawing board to see if we can send them by bus and other modes."
At this juncture, it was Shuva Mandal, General Counsel of Tata Group, who made the suggestion to fly these stranded workers to Ranchi, instead of opting for the bus service.
"With the help of Tata Group, we arranged a flight for them to fly tomorrow by the 6 AM flight", Trehan recalls.
She said that Mumbai was chosen, as the cost of living there was high, and the conditions for migrant workers were the most unfortunate. Similarly, Jharkhand was chosen due to the dearth of flights going there.
Trehan also added that most of these people who are ready to fly tomorrow were on the brink of starvation.
On the groundwork for the initiative, Trehan commented,
Speaking to Bar and Bench, Priya Sharma of urhope.in stated,
“This was the perfect combination. I had a database of migrants, and the law school alumni had raised the funds for them to travel. Most of them are flying for the first time. They require tremendous logistical support, especially in the wake of new regulations under Covid."
Over the various stages of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Standard Operating Procedure for inter-state travel issued by the state governments has been changing and new rules have been added frequently.
Although the Maharashtra government had allowed chartered flights to operate, since there was no such precedent amid the lockdown period, pulling this off required a host of approvals, said Roy. She went on to say,
"Moreover, most of the migrant workers needed to proceed beyond Ranchi to places like Hazaribagh. Therefore, we had to organize for transport or find out the modalities of quarantine by the state government. Here, the Jharkhand government has supported us and taken the initiative of transporting the migrants from Ranchi to their respective homes in the state."
Most of the migrant workers possessed valid IDs in the form of Aadhaar or Voter Identification. However, children aged between 2-18 years had no ID proof. For now, the team decided that it would only take people who had valid government IDs.
The team said,
"What started as a batch initiative (Batch of 2000), we raised this money with the help of the alumni network in no time. This also had the support of Tata Group and Air Asia. In general, NLSIU has an ethos of giving back, so we did not find difficulty in raising the money."
Roy will be at Mumbai airport at 2 am tomorrow to ensure that migrant workers board the flight. The Air Asia flight from Bombay is scheduled to take off tomorrow at 6 am.
Bar and Bench has been informed that the Migrant workers have successfully reached their destination, i.e., Ranchi.
Notably, the Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren took it to twitter to thank the NLS alumni for all their efforts.