Corona Corner

How an MLA single-handedly helped thousands of migrant workers across India

Bagodar legislator Vinod Singh personally received over 10,000 phone calls during the on-going lockdown, kept raising issues of migrant workers with Jharkhand and Central governments

Ranchi: If you think that one person is not enough to make a difference, read on to know the power of one.

A lot of migrants working or studying across India hail from Jharkhand, Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, hence the sudden lockdown implemented across India from March 24 has affected people from these states the most.

On April 2 the Covid-19 control room in Jharkhand released a statement, which officially confirmed that between March 27 and April 1, they had received nearly 17,000 calls from migrant workers from the state stranded across India. It also stated that around six and half lakh migrant workers from Jharkhand have been left stranded across the country in the wake of the national lockdown. While Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren government, which was formed in late December, has done commendable work, the one opposition leader who without any resources took a rock-solid stand for the rights of thousands of migrants was, Bagodar’s CPI ML MLA Vinod Singh.

During the first ten days of the lockdown Singh received over 10,000 calls from migrant workers in distress. Significantly, Singh has just one phone number which he has been using for the last 15 years, and he personally received most of the calls.

“Only when he got tired, or was busy in some meeting, that he would use call divert system. But diverted calls were also attended by us,” informed Abhay Sahu, an All India Student Association (AISA) leader.

This champion of migrants was able to succeed where many have failed simply because of his communication strategy and a solid network of foot soldiers.

Vinod Singh CPIML MLA lockdown jharkhand migrants workers covid-19 coronavirus
Screenshot of Vinod Singh’s Twitter handle

“CPI ML has formed a central team comprising ML members who reside in Mumbai, Delhi, Faridabad, Surat, Chennai, Telangana, Hyderabad and Bangalore. We contact our team members when we receive calls from migrants. These contacts in turn reach out to the callers. After confirming the callers and identifying their locations our team members transfer money and even provide them with ration kits. We have contacted local police, local MLAs, NGOs in the area and several individuals to help stranded migrants. In Mumbai we have worked with Jharkhandi Ekta Sangh, an NGO and have started crowd-funding for these workers,” said the student leader.

When eNewsroom inquired from Singh, he said, “It’s true that I was getting over a thousand calls in a day and for a week we tried to respond to as many grievances as we could with our limited resources. In between, I requested Chief Minister Hemant Soren to start a helpline which again on my request was increased from one to six numbers. Nodal officers have also been deployed for states with maximum number of stranded migrants from Jharkhand”.

Hemant Soren’s government right from its inception has been very active on Twitter to redress public issues.

So the MLA of Bagodar also took the Twitter route to raise issues related to migrants. The background of Singh’s Twitter account appeals to people to come forward and help Jharkhand’s migrants. His pinned tweets highlight the five demands he has put before the Jharkhand government to fight against the corona (Covid-19) virus. He now has hundreds of tweets and retweets asking the Jharkhand and central governments to help the migrants.

Many residents of Giridih presently posted in Metropolis like Mumbai, Delhi voluntarily approached Singh to support his endeavours. Singh appealed more such people to come forward to help stranded migrant worker’s of their state.

“Seeing Singh’s desperate tweets I called him and on his recommendations, I helped several stranded migrant workers, personally,” a senior manager of a bank told eNewsroom, requesting anonymity.

Vinod Singh CPIML MLA lockdown jharkhand migrants workers covid-19 coronavirus
Screenshot of a Ranchi-based journalist Anand Dutta’s tweet

Singh even wrote a letter to the Jharkhand government to use all his MLA funds (Rs 3 crores per annum, is what a legislator gets for local area development) and to send Rs 5,000 to each stranded migrant workers’ account. He suggested that the Jharkhand government copy the Delhi government which is transferring Rs 5,000 to every migrant worker’s account from the government exchequer.

“The lockdown is a catastrophe for migrants and that is why I had to tell the government to use my all MLA funds. However Jharkhand officials replied to my letter saying there was no provision to (a) use all MLA funds for one purpose and (b) send it directly to migrants’ accounts.  All I have to say to them is that laws are often bent to support government’s initiatives especially when it comes to helping industrialists, so why can’t they make new provisions to help poor stranded migrants,” Singh told eNewsroom.

“I also requested the state government to transfer Rs 5,000 from their treasury into the accounts of stranded labourers like Delhi and other governments have done. But our government is yet to act in a similar way,” he added.

“Bagodar MLA has always stood for migrants, and this time also out of 81 MLAs, only one MLA has taken a stand for the rights of migrant workers and that is Vinod Singh. Migrants stranded across India hail from all assembly constituencies of Jharkhand but it is just one leader from the opposition who has stood up for their rights. Leaders of the principal opposition party, the BJP has been busy criticizing government instead,” added Abhay.

It is ironic that the BJP at the Centre keeps telling opposition parties not to politicize the pandemic or the lockdown and to work unitedly, but when the BJP is in the opposition in states their leaders are critical and quick to politicize the virus and its impact.

Shahnawaz Akhtar

is Founder of eNewsroom. He loves doing human interest, political and environment related stories.

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