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Meet Ity Pandey, the Chief Commercial Manager, Indian Railways who managed to help several migrant workers reach home during the pandemic!
In his book, ‘Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present,’ Historian Frank M. Snowden says, ‘Like all pandemics, COVID-19 is not an accidental or random event. Epidemics afflict societies through the specific vulnerabilities people have created by their relationships with the environment, other species and each other. COVID-19 flared up and spread because it suited the society that we have made. A world of nearly 8 billion people, the majority of whom live in densely crowded cities and all linked by rapid air travel.”
For the Indian narrative, the most vulnerable have undoubtedly been the daily wage worker and the migrant workers looking for wage in cities. The overnight lock-down exposed this vulnerability and a horrific humanitarian crisis unfolded in front of our eyes. A crisis, some of us saw personally while others read and saw on the media platforms.
However, every crisis also brings out several leaders who go beyond their line of duty and Ity Pandey, a 1996 batch Indian Civil Services officer is one such hero. She is currently the Chief Commercial Manager (Passenger Services) in the Indian Railway Traffic Service and is stationed at the VT station in Mumbai.
The VT Station was the one that saw the highest number of ‘Shramik trains’ departures. It is the route to West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which is where most of the migrant labourers come from.
The Indian Railways was one organisation that has played a major part in providing support to the migrant labourers. Right from the IRCTC base kitchens who provided hot meals to them to ensuring that people reached their respective villages, the IRCTC made sure of it all.
By the end of April, it had crossed the two million free meals mark. The Railway Protection Force stepped up their game and distributed of food packets across 30 locations in the country. Many railway coaches were converted to hospital beds and the railways also started using PPEs, masks and sanitisers.
However, our story here focuses on the Shramik trains which the railways have been running since May 1. The railways have run over 4,436 Shramik Special trains and transported more than 62 lakh migrant workers back to their home states.
May 11th was an ordinary day when Ity Pandey’s colleague from the income tax office called and requested that some six migrants wanted to be sent back to their village. As per the procedure, she asked them to reach the station so the tickets could be booked for them.
She thought the issue would be simple and would sort itself out. However, the next day, she got a call that the number of passengers had risen to 32. These were watchmen and their families who had not been paid for two months. They were at a risk of becoming homeless.
In the face of uncertainty, these families wanted to get back to Jaunpur, their hometown. Luck seemed to be on their side as there were two trains going to Varanasi which is a couple of hours from Jaunpur.
The train was scheduled at 9.15 pm and it was decided that the migrants reach the LTT (Lokmanya Tilak Terminus station) at 5.30 pm. At 5 pm, Ity got a call, that there was no transport available for them to reach the station.
This could rattle the faint-hearted but this feisty lady knows how to think on her feet. One option was to drop the plan for that day and look at the train for the next day. But that was hardly a choice as these families were already risking homelessness.
If the journey had to be postponed, they would be on the streets for an entire day during the lockdown. This was because most trains are scheduled for the night, as the day is spent in paperwork and medical tests and coordinating with the state authorities.
So, the only choice Ity had was to look for a travel agent and ask for a bus. Considering the circumstances and the risks, the travel agent quoted a steep price, but cost was the last thing on her mind. However, there still were issues to come! As the migrants were on their way, the scheduled train was cancelled because of low occupancy.
Another quick decision had to be taken and thankfully she found that there was another train from VT going towards the direction of Juanpur. She had to re-negotiate with the bus driver to bring the passengers to the VT station. What followed was another hike in price, and despite the complete lockdown and travel restrictions in Mumbai, the passengers managed to reach the station at 9.15 pm.
With the help of the railways staff, new tickets were issued and they boarded the train at 12 am. They travelled for a day and half and continued their journey further to Jaunpur for another day. The story has a happy ending because after a quarantine period for 14 days, they reached home safe and sound.
Thirty-two lives were impacted positively and they sent messages of gratitude to Ity. Indeed, stories like these shows how much compassion and those in positions of responsibility can make a difference to human life. There were several repetitions of this story of compassion and trust that often don’t make it to the national media.
Ity Pandey has several other feathers in her cap. She received the General Managers award in 1999 and 2016 and the Ministry of Railways Award for Meritorious service in 2007. In 2016, she was awarded the ‘Women’s Achievers Award’ for her work in creating the ‘Surakshini Sena’. The Surakshini Sena was created in the year 2000. And is a group of lady ticket-checking squads and RPF lady constables to man ladies’ compartments in local trains.
Ity is currently in charge of the ‘Matunga All Ladies Station’ to ensure that lady staff members are never inconvenienced. Giving back to society is a big part of Ity’s life and she is part of ‘Margadarshan.’ It is a venture that she has started with her husband, Virendra Ojha, an ICS officer.
This was set up to train underprivileged UPSC aspirants in her hometown, Allahabad. The training is absolutely free and all that the couple expects is commitment from the students.
Coming from a family of doctors what made Ity opt for the civil services? “Since childhood my canvas was vast. I dreamt of serving my country and reaching out to people in a big way. That is what inspired me to choose Civil Services,” she says.
It’s not all work and no play for this mother of two. Ity completed the 21 Km at Canathon Mumbai Half Marathon 2020 on the occasion of International Women’s Day with chip timing of 02:10:56. This was just another addition to 42 half marathons, two full marathons and four Ultra marathons that she had done earlier.
She has managed podium finishes at the 2018 and 2020 Jaipur Marathon. At the Adani night ultra-run, she was placed first among women clocking 72kms in 12 hrs. “I consider it my best run as I came back from injury and no running for 9 months,” says a very satisfied Ity.
She says, “Running helps you maintain a calm in the midst of a storm.” Indeed, the world is looking for some calm, but individuals like Ity Pandey give us hope on how to lead from the front.
Picture credits: Twitter.
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