For her 23-year-old daughter Yashmeet, Jasbeer Kaur tried everything during the lockdown to source gluten-free wheat. The Kaurs, who usually order the wheat online, were asked to collect it from Patiala but, with the lockdown, the three-hour distance from their home in Yamuna Nagar looked an impossible task. It was after Jasbeer came across a railway helpline on television that she decided to call up with little hope. After giving out a few details, mother-daughter was asked to collect the wheat from Yamuna Nagar Jagadhari station, about five minutes from their house, the next day.
Thousands of kilometres away, Sanjay Paswan, a migrant worker in Hyderabad, had nowhere to go when his landlord asked him to vacate the premises. Paswan, who hails from Bihar, instead called the railway helpline and, within minutes, a railway officer contacted an IPS officer in Hyderabad, who advised the landlord against evicting Paswan.
Over the past 12 days, the helpline of Indian Railways has come to the rescue of over 400 people and fielded 1,500 desperate calls of help. The helpline was started after the lockdown was extended. (Helpline 844-884-8477, Twitter @IRTS_SETU).
The helpline along with a Twitter handle has been started by a group of 30 probationary officers of Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS) called ‘IRTS Setu’ to facilitate movement of anything that people urgently need, ranging from medicines for patients, gluten-free wheat, camel milk and even agricultural products.
The probationary officers, inducted into the traffic service a year ago, were undergoing training at Udaipur and Vadodara when the lockdown came into effect.
The helpline and the Twitter handle are manned by three officers, who after collecting all the details from a person in need of help, then pass it on to others depending on the region of the complainant. The entire country has been broadly divided into northern, eastern, western, central and southern regions with specific officers assigned to each area to streamline communication with officers in that region. These officers co-ordinate with the district administration.
In one such instance, when a consignment of medicines was to be transported from Bilwari to Delhi, the team faced a challenge with a curfew in Bilwari. The supplier couldn’t reach Bilwari station. Besides, none of the trains had a halt at Bilwari. The task was then assigned to Sachin Bansal for co-ordination, who got in touch with the police control room to get the medicines to the station while Senior Divisional Commercial Manager of Ajmer, Mahesh Jawali, was requested to arrange a special halt at Bilwari for the medicines to be put on a parcel train. A parcel train was given special stoppage at Bilwari to take the medicines to Ajmer from where they were put in a special medicine parcel train to reach Delhi within 24 hours.
According to Mallela Srikant, Area Officer from Ramagundan at Secunderabad, the helpline was thought of after a woman reached for help on Twitter for camel milk for her kid during the lockdown. Srikant added that the effort is not just of 30 probationary IRTS officers but a network of close to 500 officers posted across the 17 zones of Indian Railways.
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