Nilesh Lal inspects an incoming Shramik Express train.
Nilesh Lal inspects an incoming Shramik Express train.
File photo

BHOPAL: Light was penetrating through the eastern vault of the sky on a sweltering May dawn. Railway Board member Nilesh Lal was sitting in his office at Sant Hirdaram Railway station (Bhopal).

Lal suddenly stood up and went out of his office. He then stepped towards the railway station as the Shramik Express was about to arrive. He is one of those who were leading the battle against the corona pandemic from the front. Lal and his team were dishing out food and water bottles to the migrant workers coming from different parts of the country during the lockdown.

As he got to the platform, the clammy May morning broke. Because of the corona-induced curfew, the station was empty. A few members of his team were present there. To help the migrant workers reach their destinations, the railway ministry had launched several Shramik Expresses.

No sooner had the train arrived at the platform than a large number of migrant workers disembarked. Their destinations were different parts of the state. Many of those places are far from Bhopal. Such workers had to catch buses or any other vehicles to reach their homes. Lal arranged vehicles for them, too.

Nilesh Lal
Nilesh Lal
File photo

Lal says the stories of the migrant workers wrenched his heart. He and his team members did whatever they could to help them. Lal says providing food, water and other items to a large number of people was a challenging task. At times, the heat was so extreme that many workers fell ill. Their hungry children demanded food. Their cries rent the air. He says as the migrant workers spent all the money they earned on their way, they had nothing left to buy food and water.

To help the workers better, Lal launched a drive in coordination with the local vendors for distribution of water and food packets. He controlled all the railway stations in the state from his headquarters. Besides the migrant workers, he helped the porters who had no income to meet their daily needs. From his office, he took feedback on how food and water were being distributed at other stations. It was a Herculean task.

Apart from getting off the Shramik Expresses, many migrant workers boarded those trains. Arrangements had to be made for them, too. Lal had to work round the clock, as well as maintain corona protocols. He ensured that his team members did not fall ill.

The first Shramik Special train arrived at Gwalior railway station on May 8 last year. The train carried 1,200 workers from Goa. Then a series of Shramik Expresses brought migrant workers to Madhya Pradesh, or passed through the state carrying those workers. Lal also distributed groceries among the porters. There are 10,000 porters at different railway stations across the state.

Besides, the lockdown had rendered a large number of vendors jobless. Lal came to their rescue, too. Lal says so pathetic was the condition of those who lived on daily wages that everyone had to lend a helping hand. He says it was the time to do something for people who were in distress.

Lal says, “I tried to do something within my capacity. We distributed water bottles and food packets to thousands of migrant workers who were either on the trains, or had got down onto the platforms.” The platforms turned into a melting pot at noon. The asphalt roads were melting because of the intense heat of May. Yet, not a single member of his team ever gave up. The work went on. Lal says the sufferings of nearly 50,000 family members of porters across the state wrenched his heart.

He plunged into action, as those porters had lost their livelihood. Lal, who never sought any publicity for what he did, says, “I only responded to duty’s call that needs nothing but the blessings of God.”

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