In the industrial town of Vasai, around 60 km from Mumbai, a large number of migrant workers have been stranded ever since a countrywide lockdown was imposed to combat the aggravating COVID-19 situation.
With little access to necessities like food and water, the plight of families knows no bounds. Most of them are daily wage earners, who now have no means to earn and are mostly surviving on others’ mercy.
45-year-old John Pereira, who runs a money transfer business in Vasai-East, has now emerged as a saviour for many of these stranded workers, who cannot avail bank services but need cash immediately.
Helping migrant workers in their time of need
“Almost 99% of labourers, plumbers or electricians here are migrant workers. These people have set up bank accounts using Aadhaar, but they do not know how to withdraw money or don’t have ATM cards,” reveals Pereira.
In normal circumstances, they often come to him to transfer money every month to their families back in their villages. But in this crisis, these workers need some urgent cash in hand for survival. This is where Pereira comes in.
With the help of the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AePS), Pereira is helping them to withdraw cash from their accounts.
The government-authorised facility allows an individual to withdraw money directly by using the Aadhaar card linked to their Jan Dhan or MGNREGA accounts; or by scanning their biometrics. Pereira has waived off his commission entirely for providing this service during the lockdown.
Risking his safety for the poor and needy
Within a few days of the imposition of lockdown, Pereira acquired permission to keep his business open as it falls under the Essential Services of Banking & ATM. At present, his shop is perhaps one of the very few money transfer units still active in the entire area of Vasai.
“There is a lot of resistance from my family in keeping the business open. They are worried about my safety. But I know that these people need my help more than ever now,” he says.
Every day, he keeps his shop open for 4.5 hours in the morning and 5 hours in the evening, and tends to around 10-15 underprivileged labourers. Pereira has kept all his ancillary businesses closed, like travel ticket booking, mobile recharge or car battery retail. The Rs 4.50 commission he earns directly from the bank on each transaction is barely enough to pay for his staff, rent or electricity.
Sometimes, if the system runs out of cash at an odd hour, Pereira does not hesitate to pay out the money from his account. He even has to rush to the bank every now and then to keep his cash supply service running.
“These people need our help now more than ever. I do not aim to acquiesce any additional profits through this crisis. I am keeping my business open risking my safety only for supporting the poor and needy,” asserts Pereira.
John Pereira has set a precedent of selflessness in these trying times by putting empathy above his personal safety and comfort. His support is helping many to survive another day.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)