Digest - IN FRONT-COVID WARRIOR
Down To Earth|November 16, 2020
Priyanka Shukla and her friends fought the administration to provide assistance to informal workers in Chhattisgarh during the lockdown
AVDHESH MALLICK

I VIVIDLY remember the scene at the railway station on the morning after the nationwide lockdown was announced to curb the spread of COVID-19 on March 24,” says lawyer-activist Priyanka Shukla from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh. The lockdown, which took effect at midnight, was announced with just four hours' notice. During that short period, more than 300 people had managed to reach the station and were waiting for connecting trains to go to their villages or home towns. But they were stranded after the railways too cancelled all passenger trains.

What came as a rude shock is that the railway authorities had even shut down the public utilities and were chasing the people away, recalls Shukla. The widespread apathy prompted her to take to the social media to garner support. One of her tweets, that highlighted that 126 of the stranded labourers were from Jharkhand, prompted the state’s chief minister Hemant Soren to reply. Immediately, the local administration provided vehicles for their safe return. Soon, similar arrangements were made for labourers who hailed from Bihar. Meanwhile, following the public pressure, the labourers who hailed from West Bengal and Assam were temporarily shifted to schools. Towards the end of April, the government announced that it will charge ₹3,000 from each labourer for ensuring their safe return home. “By now, I was volunteering with 14 of my friends and we all mounted pressure on the government through social media,” she recalls, adding that she received calls from officials who accused her of defaming the government.

But as their social media presence increased, they also started getting requests from people who wanted to help. So, Shukla and her group decided to set up a small kitchen on the outskirts of Bilaspur to provide meals to the desperate travellers. By May, about 200 workers were crossing Bilaspur every night on foot or on cycle. They mostly hailed from Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and were travelling from the southern states and Maharashtra. Shukla and her group hired buses to ferry the returning informal workers back home. “We did not want to handle money so we asked the people who were donating to directly transfer to the vendors we were buying from,” she says. We are glad that many came forward to support us and help the returning workers.

QUERYDigest

Sri Lanka returns illegal waste containers to UK

RAJAT GHAI

AFTER A two-year court battle, Sri Lanka has started shipping back the 263 waste containers that were illegally brought into the country from the UK.

The containers were brought into the island nation through 2017 and 2018 under the National Environmental Act 1980. This was done to circumvent the Basel Convention, which calls for clearances from the governments of both the exporting and importing countries.

Wealthy western nations ship their waste to developing countries since it is cheaper, helps to meet their recycling targets and also reduces domestic landfill needs.

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