Pappan Singh Gahlot, a Mushroom Farm owner sent his ten staff from Delhi to their homes in Samastipur district of Bihar on an Indigo Airlines Flight. They had only dreamt of travelling in a plane and couldn’t have imagined that it would happen in the midst of a nightmare.
The men were stuck in a mushroom farm at Tigipur village in north Delhi since March when they couldn’t make the annual trip to their homes because of the sudden lockdown. Gahlot decided he would not let his men suffer like lakhs of migrant workers struggling to reach home.
Gahlot’s workers first registered themselves on the government portal for a seat on a special Shramik Express but didn’t get a response. Even as migrant workers across the city were queuing up under the scorching sun to register for the special trains, the government decided to resume domestic flights. And Gahlot too made a decision with the support of his wife, daughter and brother – his workers would be flying to Patna.
“My workers are like my family. They are all very old employees and have been working at my farm for several years with their families away in the villages. The migrants in Delhi and other parts of the country have been returning to their villages in inhuman conditions. I did not want my workers to face the same challenges,” said Gahlot. “I read so many reports of accidents on the highway. It disturbed me. My workers deserve respect. I could not have allowed to let them go like this.”
He said 48 labourers work on his 2.5-acre farm between August and March when mushrooms are grown. Every year, they leave in March for their villages and come back in August. This year, too, except for these unlucky 10, everyone else had gone back when the lockdown was announced. They stayed on the farm, waiting, with Gahlot providing them food and all amenities.
Now, they will be the first ones from their village to fly. “We didn’t have any problem in the past two months. When the trains started, we registered our names but never got any response. This is when our employer told us he would send us back by air,” said Naveen Ram, whose son, Aditya, was just three months old when he came to Delhi last year. His father, Lakhinder, has been working for Gahlot for 27 years and he for a decade now. “Our families are overjoyed,” he said.
Mahesh Ram, who has yet to see his younger son, Vivek, who was born in October when he was in Delhi, is overwhelmed. “When most rich men have disowned their workers, he cared for us like his own family and has now ensured we go back to our villages safely,” he said.
Gahlot spent about Rs 68,000 on the air tickets and his brother agreed to drop the workers at the airport. But how will they go from Patna to their village, Siripur Gohar, Samastipur district, about 90 km east of Patna?
This is where municipal councillor, Suneet Chauhan, stepped in. Through senior leaders of his party, he spoke to the office-bearers of the Bihar unit and managed to arrange a bus for the workers. “They won’t face any problem at the airport,” said Chauhan, who represents Bakhtawarpur municipal ward. “I also got their screening done by a doctor here to confirm they don’t have any symptoms of Covid-19.”