The State units of the Congress or the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCC) will bear the cost of rail travel of every needy worker and migrant labour , Congress president Sonia Gandhi said in a statement on Monday.
She called it ‘disturbing’ that the Railways and the Union government were charging the migrants even for distress travel when it could spend nearly ₹100 crores on a public programme in Gujarat, a veiled attack on the Namaste Trump programme to welcome U.S. President Donald Trump.
“What is particularly disturbing is that the Central government and the Rail Ministry are charging them for train tickets in this hour of crisis,” Ms. Gandhi said in a statement.
“The Indian National Congress has, therefore, taken a decision that every Pradesh Congress Committee shall bear the cost for the rail travel of every needy worker and migrant labourer and shall take necessary steps in this regard.”
Questioning the responsibility of the Union government, the Congress chief said there were lakhs of migrant workers who were ‘languishing’ in different parts of the country with neither food nor money to travel.
“Post the Partition of 1947, this is the first time India witnessed a tragedy with such a massive human cost as thousands of migrant workers and labourers were forced to walk home several hundred kilometres on foot — without food, without medicines, without money, without transportation, without anything except for the desire to return to their families and loved ones. The very thought of their plight is enough to break our hearts as there was also the outpouring of support from fellow Indians for their inspiring resolve,” she said.
‘Ambassadors of nation’s growth’
“Our workers and labourers are the ambassadors of our nation’s growth. When our government can recognise its responsibility by arranging free air travel for our citizens stranded abroad, when the government can spend nearly ₹100 crores on transport and food etc. for just one public programme in Gujarat, when the Rail Ministry has the largesse to donate ₹151 crores to the PM’s Corona fund, then why can’t these essential members of our nation’s fabric be given a fraction of the same courtesy, especially free rail travel, at this hour of acute distress,” asked Ms. Gandhi.
The Congress chief stated that by making a “humble contribution” the Congress would stand “shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the workers”.
Cong. releases Railways guidelines
As soon as Central government ‘sources’ stated that the Centre would fund 85% of the rail travel cost of migrant workers, the Congress on Monday released a copy of the Indian Railways guidelines where it was clearly mentioned that the fare had to be collected from the passenger.
The government’s damage control came soon after Ms. Gandhi issued a public statement that her party would pay for the rail fares of the migrant workers.
Addressing an online press conference, party general secretary K.C. Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala said the government’s move was an afterthought and asserted that the party had already paid ₹1 crore to the BJP government in Karnataka to facilitate smooth travel of migrant labour and workers.
“The local State government authority shall hand over the tickets to passengers cleared by them and collect the ticket fare and hand over the total amount to Railways,” Mr. Venugopal read out from order signed by a senior official of the Railway Board.
The Congress general secretary said that all the State party units or Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) had been informed to get in touch with the Chief Secretaries of the State government to make the offer of payment.
PM CARES Fund
“Nobody should stand on false prestige, and we call upon Prime Minister Narendra Modiji to utilise thousands and thousands of crores lying in the PM CARES Fund,” Mr. Surjewala said.
Former party chief Rahul Gandhi too made a similar point on twitter.
“On the one hand, the Railways is charging fares from migrant workers stranded in other States while, on the other hand, it is donating ₹150 crores to the PM CARES Fund. Just solve the riddle,” Mr. Gandhi tweeted.
Calling the party president’s decision to direct PCCs to bear the cost of rail transport for migrant workers historic, former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the move “puts the Government of India to shame”.
Senior party leader Ahmed Patel asked why the issue of migrant workers had not got the attention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) it deserved.
“The near silence of the NHRC is surprising. Two major human rights abuses have occurred during this pandemic & we are yet to hear from this constitutional body.1) Forced exodus of poor migrants on foot. 2) Stigmatisation of a community contrary to WHO guidelines,” Mr. Patel tweeted.