Neeraj Shetye

My phone number essentially became a hunger helpline – it was shared as a Covid helpline as a part of many toolkits. Sometimes I got calls as late as 3 AM and I woke up to at least 35 missed calls a day in March and April 2021. I tried my best to answer as many calls as possible. We faced a harsh reality that our city, state and country do not have a functional crisis management system.

It was May 8th 2020. The country witnessed a piece of heart-wrenching news. A goods train ran over and killed sixteen migrant workers sleeping on the tracks near Aurangabad. I was utterly taken aback by the gruesome incident. This was the peak of the migrant crisis that displaced millions of helpless labourers from metropolitan hubs like Mumbai. Ruben issued a call for volunteers as Khaana Chahiye was expanding its transit operations to Thane. I texted him to join the team.  

My primary task was coordinating logistics and operations across the city. Many good Samaritans called in to offer donations and I was tasked with ensuring those items reached the pockets where they were needed. Our team had adopted three important stations, at CSMT, LTT-Kurla and Bandra Terminus along with transit operations at Dahisar Check Naka, Majiwada Junction – Thane and Vashi Naka.  

Around this time, I got a call from one of our partner organizations informing me that a group of 18 migrants was rendered homeless since their construction site had closed down. There was a pregnant lady in the group. Our partner, Noble Foundation arranged for their accommodation for a couple of days while I tried to arrange for their travel. The group belonged to Odisha and the Sharamik trains commissioned by the government were arranged for UP and Bihar. After multiple phone calls and a bit of research, I managed to find Project "Aahan-Vahan," based out of Bangalore. They were chartering flights for migrant workers to Patna. I reached out to them and requested them to divert a flight to Odisha. They agreed immediately!

We started finding more people who needed to reach Odisha and found out about a group in Nalasopara sheltering in a local church. Eventually, after a string of 3 consecutive sleepless nights, on 26th May, around 160 migrants flew to Odisha. Credits to the team Aahan Vahan who coordinated with the Odisha state government for the local transport from Bhubaneshwar airport. I can’t express the peace I felt at that time in words. And what more? When many of them returned to Mumbai this year in January, I went to meet them! 

I joined KC to coordinate the Hunger Map Project as the campaign formally registered as an organization. When the second wave hit the city in early 2021, we geared up for our second round of relief operations. My phone number essentially became a hunger helpline – it was shared as a Covid helpline as a part of many toolkits. Sometimes I got calls as late as 3 AM and I woke up to at least 35 missed calls a day in March and April 2021. I tried my best to answer as many calls as possible. We faced a harsh reality that our city, state and country do not have a functional crisis management system. As a part of Khaana Chahiye, I will continue to work towards building a foundational framework for such a system in Mumbai.  

My experience in Khaana Chahiye is a testimony to the fact that you don’t need any external form of influence to make an impact. Over the past 18 months, I met some phenomenal individuals, organizations and collectives across Mumbai – all striving towards a common goal of helping the marginalized. This network has transformed us from an organization to a collaborative platform. We are working towards building some long-term solutions to combat hunger and build sustainable livelihoods. To anyone reading this – if you are looking to make an impact and willing to contribute some time for a good cause, get in touch with us. We’ll find ways for you to make a difference!


Interviewed by Prerna Sharma

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Khaana Chahiye Foundation traces its origins to a citizen-led food-relief effort during Mumbai's Covid-19 lockdown, evolving into one of the city's largest crisis management initiatives. Today, it persists in its mission to combat hunger through various relief and advocacy efforts.

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