Amid the lockdown and at the peak of Coronavirus pandemic in Bengaluru, Indian Revenue Services Officer Major Pradeep Shaury Arya emerged as a messiah for thousands of migrant labourers stranded in the city, as well as the underprivileged people affected drastically by the situation.
The 47-year-old Additional Commissioner of Income Tax of Mumbai is a Shaurya Chakra awardee, for his bravery at an encounter with terrorists along the LoC in 2017. Alongside a PhD and a commercial pilot’s license, Major Arya has many other feathers in his crown.
This time, he did all he can to help people and animals affected by the deadly disease.
Before the first phase of the lockdown was announced on 24 March, Major Arya had come to visit his family home in Bengaluru. Due to the lockdown and ban on interstate traffic movement, he could not return to Mumbai. However, soon afterwards, the administration of Bengaluru sought his help in arranging several humanitarian initiatives, knowing his exceptional competence in managing a crisis scenario.
In an exclusive conversation with The Better India (TBI), Major Arya detailed the programs he undertook in Bengaluru during the lockdown. From the poor and needy in the city slums to the stray animals on the roadside – this generous general lent his support and care thanks to everyone.
Serving The Vulnerable Communities in Bengaluru
“Let me start with our incredible team of She Warriors,” Major Arya begins. “Among the citizens who volunteered to act as Corona Warriors, we selected around 80 women who catered to the needs of vulnerable sections of women, girls, and children in the city. From supplying essential vitamin and iron supplements to expecting mothers, to providing menstrual hygiene products to young girls – these women supervised across all eight DCP zones in Bengaluru.”
Each of the zones had one team of She Warriors, looking after the well-being of women and children in that area.
Major Arya also did not forget about other vulnerable communities living in the city. With support from the NGO Sangama, he and his team of volunteers coordinated the distribution of food and ration for the transgender community. At the same time, he supported the stranded students from North-Eastern states as well as Africa, who are often subjected to racist confrontations in public.
It deserves mention here that presently, Major Arya has returned to Mumbai and is facilitating food and essentials distribution among the sex workers and transgender community there. Supporting him in this endeavour are Captain Neil Shaji VSM, who was a part of the Uri Surgical Strike, Major Sanjay Raoule and IPS Officer Veeresh Prabhu. Major Arya is also distributing ration packages, masks and hygiene kits among the inhabitants of Dharavi Slums in Mumbai.
Providing food to Lakhs of Migrant Labourers
Back in Bengaluru, Major Arya also helped streamline the regular distribution of dry ration kits as well as hot meals to migrant labourers. With requests coming in through the Dasoha helpline, his team of volunteers collaborated with commercial pilot Captain Radhakrishnan – and together they helped arrange 2.2 lakh meals, alongside 3 lakh ration kits for these distressed families.
The Major took extra precaution to identify the right beneficiaries who were in real need of the food. “However, most of these people did not have their Aadhar Cards or Ration Cards with them as identification, but they needed food to survive. So, we partnered with people from all prongs – recognised trade unions, administrative officials and a local representative in each zone – so that there is no political or personal affiliation involved in the distribution process.”
He adds that food banks were also created in certain areas where the migrant workers could avail it for free at a certain time of the day.
Catering to Humans and Animals Equally
To ensure that the citizens are adhering to the social distancing and lockdown norms in public places, Major Arya helped organise a Public Announcement System. Through this, the Bengaluru police personnel spread messages and warnings to prevent any undue breaking of rules anywhere in the city. Thanks to their strict monitoring of adherence of social distancing norms, the initial rise in the spread of COVID-19 could be stalled.
To monitor public places and containment zones, the police deployed a swarm of drones fitted with cameras. A team of around 20 volunteers comprising technical specialists and hobby flyers was in charge of this operation. The footage was observed directly in the police control room.
As a matter of fact, the drones also helped deliver emergency medicines (up to a weight of 600 gms) in certain locations after receiving an urgent request.
Other than the delivery of medicines, Major Arya’s league of Corona Warriors ensured that people receive timely support for their physical or mental health issues even during the lockdown. A 24×7 Doctor-On-Call helpline was set up in Bengaluru where Dr Bhaskar Rajkumar answered queries about health issues, quarantine hygiene and other do’s and don’ts during a pandemic. Alongside, another helpline was also arranged under the supervision of psychologist Dr Jyothi where she provided free counselling on mitigating lockdown related depression, stress and anxiety.
The plight of the animals also did not go unnoticed amidst lockdown, thanks to Major Arya. Collaborating with BBMP, the Corona Warriors under his guidance regularly fed stray dogs, cats and cattle. Some animal rescuers even arranged for animal ambulances for emergency purposes in lockdown.
In Bengaluru, Major Arya worked tirelessly as an indispensable part of the brigade of administrative officers who helped hundreds survive even during such a crisis.
As soon as the restrictions of the lockdown were eased, Major Arya headed to Kashmir to supervise relief operations in the remote and lesser privileged areas of Baramulla, Shopian in Kashmir and Ladakh as well. He is going back and forth from Mumbai to coordinate such supportive endeavours in both the places.
During the course of the interview, Major Arya made sure to mention each and every one of the officials and representatives with whom he worked in Bengaluru during the lockdown. “It’s not just my efforts, we all did it together,” he asserts.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)