Coronavirus lockdown | ‘Sending States’ should pay fare of migrant workers, say Railways

Govt. issues clarification after Congress announces that it would bear travel cost

Updated - May 04, 2020 10:54 pm IST

Published - May 04, 2020 10:48 pm IST

A family of migrant workers on board a special train in Ajmer, Rajasthan on Monday.

A family of migrant workers on board a special train in Ajmer, Rajasthan on Monday.

Soon after Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday asked the party’s State units to bear the cost of rail travel of migrant workers, the Railways said the “sending States” needed to pay for sending people home on the ‘Shramik Specials’ .

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“As per the guidelines issued, the sending State will pay the consolidated fare to [the] Railways. The sending State may decide to bear this cost or take it from passengers or take it from the receiving State after mutual consultation or may charge it to any fund. It is purely their prerogative,” a Railway spokesperson said.

At a regular briefing, Health Ministry spokesman Lav Aggarwal, claimed that though the government started the ‘Shramik Specials’ at the request of the State governments to help stranded people, the Centre would bear 85% of the cost and the States the remaining 15%.

The government clarification was seen as damage control coming as it did after the Congress announcement. The party also cited a May 2 order where a senior Railway Board official said, “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 the railways.”

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Nitish’s gesture

Amid the controversy, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar chipped in to say that his government would not only bear the travel costs of the migrant workers, students and tourists but also give each of them ₹500 after their 21-day quarantine period was over.

BJP general secretary B.L. Santoshi, however, said in a tweet, “Let alone charging Railways don’t have any ticket counters .. Trains are run on state requests . After the request Kerala , Rajasthan , Maharashtra make #MigrantLabourers pay & @INCIndiaChief issues statement & usual suspects pump it up.”

Also read: For migrant workers, anxiety abounds about return to home towns and future jobs

Earlier, in a statement, Ms. Gandhi called it “disturbing” that the Railways and the Centre were charging the migrant workers even for distress travel when it could spend nearly ₹100 crore on a public programme in Gujarat, a veiled attack on the ‘Namaste Trump’ programme to welcome U.S. President Donald Trump.

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“What is particularly disturbing is that the Central government and the Rail Ministry are charging them for train tickets in this hour of crisis,” she said.

“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,” Ms. Gandhi stated. By making a “humble contribution”, the Congress would stand “shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the workers”, she added.

( With inputs from Amarnath Tewary )

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