Jharkhand: In a first, migrant workers land home on chartered flight
Shankar Mandal, a migrant labourer working as tiles fitter in Mumbai, was nervous Thursday morning as he boarded a flight for the first time.
Mandal, a resident of Hazraribag road in Jharkhand, boarded the flight along with his family and 10 other relatives from Mumbai for Ranchi. The special chartered flight of Air Asia, carrying 174 migrant workers, landed at Ranchi airport around 8.20 am Thursday.
Mandal said, “I never thought I would travel by air ever. I thank people who arranged this for us.” His wife Rita Devi said, “I was scared when the flight started taking off and when it landed. It was a unique experience, a dream come true.”
This was the first flight that carried migrant workers to Jharkhand, which has seen more than 3.5 lakh migrant workers arriving by special trains, buses and private vehicles since May 1.
Most of the migrants said they had started suffering after a month of lockdown, as they had no money to survive. Aslam Ansari, resident of Nawada in Jharkhand’s Giridih district, who came from Mumbai with four children and his wife, said, “I worked as tailor there. But I was jobless since March 22. One month into the lockdown, we could not even afford to buy food. We planned on returning but had no option to come. We even thought to return on foot. Later, one of my friends said a flight for migrant workers is leaving for Jharkhand after which I filled a form for the same and got a call for the journey.”
The return of migrants on a flight was possible by collective effort of a group of alumni of National Law School, Bengaluru, who raised funds for the journey. The six alumni were Suhaan Mukerji, Priyanka Roy, Arkaja Singh, Shyel Trehan, Pria Sharma and Shuva Mandal.
Mukerji, a Delhi-based lawyer, said, “Initially, we were trying to arrange buses for the migrant workers. However, on comparison, we found the total cost of flight, about 11 lakh, was not much higher than the bus. So, we decided to send them by flight and started raising funds.”
Asked why they chose to send migrants from Jharkhand, Mukerji said, “We came to know that 45 people from Jharkhand were stuck in Mumbai and booked 45 seats in a regular flight. Unfortunately, the flight got cancelled. We then decided to get permission for a special relief flight to overcome the restriction scheduled flights.”
“We had sought support from the Jharkhand government for the migrants after their landing in Ranchi. Chief minister Hemant Soren told me he would monitor the arrangements. The state government arranged buses for the workers to reach their native places,” he said.
Soren later said the gesture strengthened the spirit of humanity. “Today, 174 migrant labourers returned home safely due to the untiring efforts of the alumni of National Law School, Bangalore, and officials of the government of Jharkhand and Maharashtra. The chief minister has thanked the Alumni Network of National Law School, Bangalore (ANNLSB) for this noble and unique work,” a statement from the CM office said.
As thousands of migrant workers are stuck in different parts of the country and are returning home on special trains, the state government had, earlier this month, twice written to the Centre seeking permission to operate special charter flights to bring back hundreds of workers from the state stuck in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, North East states and in Ladakh region.