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COVID-19 Lockdown: How IIT-D students’ initiative to help on-campus rickshaw-pullers inspired the Institute to set up the ‘Benevolent Fund’

While talking to OpIndia, Kumar said that their initiative of pooling money for the rickshaw-pullers struck a chord with the faculty members as well the Institute's Director V. Ramgopal Rao.

Days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for an extended nationwide lockdown, the Indian Institute of Technology- Delhi, realising the gravity of the situation amidst the coronavirus outbreak had already announced a 16-days suspension of the college starting March 15. The institute authorities had sent an email to the students on March 13, asking them to go home and informing them about the suspension of the classes till March 31 due to the threat posed by the novel covid-19.

The impact of the closure had a profound impact on the daily earnings of the rickshaw-pullers operating inside the campus. From earning Rs 500- Rs 600 per day, their daily incomes had drastically reduced to Rs 20-Rs 30, owing to the discontinuation of the classes. Alarmed by the fact that the temporary closure of the institute has dramatically affected the livelihood of rickshaw-pullers inside the campus, some enterprising students of the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi took it upon themselves to provide financial assistance to the rickshaw pullers.

Spearheaded by Adarsh Kumar, a fourth-year Civil engineering student at the campus, an initiative to provide monetary aid to the rickshaw-pullers was launched under the aegis of An Initiative for National Advancement(AINA), a social service group of volunteers from IIT-D, working towards making a better India. Kumar, the overall-coordinator at AINA, along with other members such as Divyanshu Saxena from Computer Science branch took to Facebook, Whatsapp and other social media platforms to crowdsource money for the hapless rickshaw-pullers and alleviate their financial woes for the time being.

While talking to OpIndia, Kumar said that their initiative of pooling money for the rickshaw-pullers struck a chord with the faculty members as well the Institute’s Director V. Ramgopal Rao who also made monetary contributions towards the fund raised by AINA.

“After the suspension was announced by the college authorities, we saw that the rickshaw-pullers were really struggling to earn their daily livelihood. Their daily earning had staggeringly dropped from Rs500/700 to a paltry Rs 20 per day. It is then that we envisaged an idea of crowdsourcing funds to help the rickshaw-pullers tide over this difficult phase. Through AINA, we reached out to everyone willing to contribute to this cause. Faculty members also joined in. Our venerable Director V Rao Sir also made a contribution of Rs 5000 in this fund,” Kumar said.

Stressing the importance of transparency in such initiatives, Kumar said that whatever amount they had collected was disbursed to the rickshaw-pullers and the payment and contact details were uploaded on Google Drive link for anyone to verify to it. On March 26, Kumar uploaded a post on his Facebook page, announcing that they have almost reached their target amount and disbursed money to 17 rickshaw-pullers.

IIT-D student Adarsh Kumar’s post on Facebook informing about the disbursement of money to rickshaw-pullers

“There are 17 rickshaw-pullers in the Institute campus. Through our sustained efforts, we were able to pool Rs 120,000. We then dispersed Rs 7000 each to the rickshaw-pullers,” said Divyanshu Saxena, a fourth-year Computer Science student, who was also actively involved with Kumar in the initiative to provide financial support to the rickshaw-pullers.

Divyanshu mentions that their initiative kindled the College administration to institutionalise a “Benevolent Fund” to be better equipped in helping the underprivileged and daily-wage workers who depend upon the institution for their livelihood. Divyanshu was also a member of the committee along with various deans, faculty members and the Institute Director that created the “Benevolent Fund”.

The IIT-D Director V Ramgopal Rao sent an email to students, faculties, alumni and staff members to inform about the voluntary initiative taken up by the college students to provide living allowance to the rickshaw-pullers on the campus. He also added that the administration has decided to expand on the initiative and to “carry it beyond the present crisis” and a ‘Benevolent Fund’ has been established which would receive voluntary contributions from the donors in a formal and transparent manner for meeting the needs of the campus community members belonging to the lower rung of the economic ladder.

“A committee chaired by me would oversee the fund collection, disbursement and transparency of its operation. Prof. M.R Ravi of Department of Mechanical Engineering, who is vice-chairperson of the committee, would oversee the activities of the committee,” the mail sent by Director Rao read.

“It is the matter of honour and pride that your institution recognises your efforts and expands it to cover other underprivileged members of the community on campus. There are at least 1000 people on campus who would stand to benefit from this Benevolent Fund,” Adarsh said.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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