With lockdown restrictions being relaxed in Hyderabad, migrant workers stranded in the city are looking for a chance to get work again. Getting them back on their feet is forty-one-year old Harish Kumar Daga, a senior project manager in a leading IT company who has taken on himself the responsibility of what he calls, “lighting the candle”.
Between the fears and concerns of migrant workers forcing them to head back home and the employers at various small and medium manufacturing units who are unable to resume their businesses is the lack of communication to bridge the gap of demand and supply.
Over the last week, Daga has reached out to several manufacturing units through his friends and relatives and connected them to workers, providing urgent employment to close to 700 workers. Recalling the plight of these workers, Daga says the least they want is to be paid every week and not later.
“It’s been two months of no work and no pay. They want to send some money home from the wages for the first two weeks and then keep the wages from the next two weeks as a corpus for immediate basic needs. It is only then they can start thinking of a living. If they want to go back home, they can. No one will stop,” says Daga, who is reaching out to the Corporates, NGOs, and the bureaucrats in his effort to guarantee jobs to the workers.
Calling himself a mere social worker, Daga was perhaps the first to raise the issue of hunger and starvation among people living on the footpath. On March 22, the day India observed Janata Curfew and Telangana chief minister announced the first phase of COVID-induced-lockdown till March 31, Daga was tweeted out to the principal secretary of Municipal Administration and Urban Development department, Arvind Kumar, requesting for the provision of a free meal through GHMC’s Annapurna canteens which otherwise serve a meal for Rs 5.
He offered to sponsor three such centers under CSR. A day later, Kumar responded to the tweet saying his officer concerned had been briefed and asked him to get in touch with the officer.
— Harish Daga (@HarishKumarDaga) March 23, 2020
On the chief minister’s directions, as officials say, more than 65 lakh people have been served meals during the lockdown through the scheme. From about 140 canteens serving 40,000 meals a day before the lockdown, the number of canteens during COVID lockdown was increased to 340 across greater Hyderabad. The distribution was scaled up to 2.80 lakh meals a day for lunch and dinner.
Stating that the rehabilitation of homeless, migrants, and the poor can be done only with the help of the government, Daga explains that the initial hiccups in COVID relief works during the lockdown was thought to be a matter of only a few days.
“Soon we realised that tapping CSR funds from corporates or taking help from NGOs alone won’t help. Look
at the sheer number of people waiting for assistance and look at the restrictions of lockdown. Several Corporates came out to offer help but unless the government decided, nothing was going to matter,” he adds.
During the lockdown, he and his friends were on the ground ensuring the supply of essentials, clothes, groceries, and medicines, wherever needed, by directing the donor or sponsor to those in need. “In our capacities, we ensure individuals or the corporates realise the need to help those in need so that they take the initiative and we assist.
We do not collect any money. We are not even the bridge, we are just lighting the candle,” says the IT professional, who tapped CSR funds from at least 70 corporate firms.
It was also his intervention that possibly led the GHMC to open 13 shelter homes for migrants and homeless across Hyderabad with the help of various NGOs. “It is not rocket science. They (the government) know what and how they can help people. Unless someone lights the candle, there is no light. I consider myself lucky to have got the opportunity to light the candle,” says Daga.
As lockdown eases further, more and more migrants are on the road and he is aware that their rehabilitation involves finding them their livelihood. “It is painful to hear what they(migrants) have to say. So, I started contacting small businesses through my contacts. And then they started sharing the word and it is working. At least as temporary employment, if they can earn something, it would be great,” he adds.
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