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112 GNLU students, alums, volunteers call 6,000 stranded workers to help them get home: Appeal for others to start nat’l movement, pool resources

However, the GNLU students have reached the limits of what they alone can achieve and are keen to help other law schools start a wider movement

GNLU students organise transport for 6,000 migrant workers (photo of special refugee train 1954, Government of India)
GNLU students organise transport for 6,000 migrant workers (photo of special refugee train 1954, Government of India)

Around 40 GNLU Gandhinagar students in addition to 72 volunteers, including GNLU alumni, has started a project to assist migrant workers to return home.

The students and volunteers had individually contacted and assisted around 6,000 labourers catch the so-called Shramik (labour) special trains home, fifth-year student Varun Srinivasan, who is volunteering in the programme, told us (more details and success stories are contained in the PDF included in the article below).

The project is similar in ambition to the Mazdoor Mitra website set up by NLIU Bhopal students, which we had reported on earlier this week, as well as other ad hoc projects law students at other schools have been involved in.

GNLU’s Srinivasan said that over the last days, the GNLU Centre for Law and Society (GCLS), co-ordinated by GNLU students Abhishek Vyas, Shashwat Shrivastava, Aayushi Jain, Chinmay Mehta, Dushyant Thakur and Disha Devadas, had begun assisting the Zenith Legal Aid Clinic in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh on its work.

“As GCLS members began the work, they were startled by the difficulties faced by labourers and quickly threw open the project to volunteers from the entire University,” he said, noting that the 40 students in the society had quickly enlisted more volunteers, to number a total of 112, who had been working “around the clock” to “assist labourers to get home, for stranded victims to get food, rations and supplies”.

“The story has been remarkable,” Srinivasan said. “The initial project was to contact labourers who were given a seat in the special shramik trains who had otherwise been unable to get confirmation. These led to follow up calls to track and map labourers who were unable to take the train, aggregating their locations and providing that information to the Maharashtra government so they could make informed decisions on where and when to ply trains to maximise its impact.

“Over a few days, our phone calls (now numbering over a thousand) exposed issues of food shortage, employer abuse, shelter issues. The volunteers began an trial and error approach of cold calling government departments, civil servants and NGO’s to help resolve these distress situations which has now ballooned into a concerted attempt to map food shortage issues from all migrant labourers who have registered for shramik services and connecting them with NGO’s and government departments who could assist them.”

Scaling the project: Not without other NLUs

While the project grew haphazardly initially, the students have now begun to systematise efforts, leading them to wonder if the project could make a greater impact if more law universities could participate, since a Times of India report from today suggested only 30% of labourers intending to return home have managed to do so safely.

Each could take one state under its wing and work across a common playbook and pool their lessons, contacts, NGO networks and experiences gained form this process of acting as bridge between distressed labourers and relief-providers, suggested Srivinasan.

“If all law schools come together, adopt a state, and coordinate with each other in developing a NGO and governmental network, the volunteers work on mapping where the distressed labourers are, we believe law schools will have provided a critical service in this troubled time,” he added.

Volunteers have been spending around three to four hours per day making calls and updating collaborative worksheets (though coordinators were working all-day, back-to-back, particularly in organisational work and trying to connect to government and NGOs).

“We’re aiming to have each law school take up their own similar project and oversee it themselves, while coordinating with each other on the results, lessons, and share their contacts/NGO networks etc,” Srinivasan said. “Once more law schools are on board, we are looking to set up a database of government officers and NGO’s working to provide relief in an area.

“At the end of the day, we can send the list of distress situations we identify to them en masse. While current GCLS structure is amenable to oversee about a hundred or so volunteers and solving the distress situations that come from those, I don’t think we would be able to coordinate the NGO’s and governments for all volunteers pan India. We envision this is a movement of projects by law schools, than one big project by one law school.”

Practical challenges

The broad set-up GNLU students had followed included the following, according to Srinivasan:

Each state has set up a task force to oversee the travel of migrant labourers. We got in touch with the team in Madhya Pradesh - a group of 9 IAS officers tasked with this, with one nodal officer. This officer, through Zenith Legal Aid Clinic, provides us with an excel sheet of labourers who have applied for the shramik trains and their contact info.

Universities adopting a particular state should contact this task force or nodal officer and offer their assistance. Each state’s problem could be unique and consequently, the aid offered to that State could involve a different task.

In the experience of the GNLU project, there had been “significant delay in waiting for these trains to get organised for thousands”.

Volunteers would individually call these labourers, “inquire whether they still need trains or have already reached MP, and in case of the former, whether they are facing food/shelter shortage or some other distressing situation like employer abuse etc. in the time that they wait”.

“We collate the distress situations, (90% of our cases are food shortages) and set a group of people in charge to resolve them on an individual basis,” said Srinivasan.

After that, “the distress team first contacts the nodal officer or government officer in charge of the location where the labourer is situated”, he explained. “At the same time, we try to identify any NGO which operates where that labourer is currently located, and relay the information to them so they can deliver food or medicine to that person. We then follow up with that NGO or [government] officer as the situation is resolved.

“The distress resolving is a little ad hoc right now as we encounter different situations, but as we do more and more we are finding ways to streamline it.”

For those interested in getting in touch with the GNLU students, they can do so via email on or contact one of the following by phone:

  • Abhishek Vyas (+91 8469681997)
  • Disha Devdas (+91 9408168318)

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