AGRA: Mohammad Liyakat Ali was surprised when he got a phone call from a stranger last week. The man on the other end wanted to know if Ali, a migrant labourer who was in Uttar Pradesh since lockdown, was keen to go back to Punjab where he worked as a painter.
“I thought someone was playing a prank on me but as we talked I learnt that the man was part of an initiative helping migrant workers return to work,” said Ali. Three days later, train tickets arrived for his family of four.
The tickets were arranged by a team of young volunteers spread across UP, Bihar, Delhi and Haryana which is helping migrant labourers go back to work in cities. In the past month, at least 100 migrant workers — painters, tailors, factory workers and street vendors — have been provided a return ticket to their places of work.
“I had no money left to arrange for my own fare back to Punjab,” said Ali, who got stuck in his native place in Hardoi in March when lockdown curbs came into effect. Just like Ali, many who were visiting their hometowns had gotten stranded due to lockdown restrictions and had run out of money to go back. Then there were others who had returned from cities after lockdown left them with no income.
Now an initiative, ‘Return to Work’, started by an NGO Aam Foundation – run by Deepak Chopra, an Indian-American entrepreneur and IIT Delhi alumnus – is funding the workers’ journey. The organisation is being aided in the Rs 7.5 crore project by a network of 20 on-ground volunteers.
Mohammed Anees, a volunteer and student at Aligarh Muslim University, said they are reaching out to migrant workers through local councillors and ward representatives. “Local workers help us identify families in need who we then approach.”
Another volunteer from Bihar, Pushpa Kumari, who has helped book 14 tickets in a week to enable workers and their families to return to Maharashtra, said, “We have a simple verification procedure we follow and we ask for details such as Aadhaar number.”