In a huge row over special trains to take migrants to their home states, the government claims it never talked about charging workers the train fare. It says 85 per cent fare will be borne by railways and the rest by state governments. "We have given the permission to run special trains on state request. We are dividing the cost in 85-15 per cent (railway: states) as per the norms. We never asked states to charge money from the stranded labourers," according to Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal. He was responding to questions following Congress president Sonia Gandhi's announcement that her party was willing to pay the fare for all migrants and needy workers travelling home by these trains. Sonia Gandhi said it was "disturbing" that the centre was charging migrants who had been stranded without food, shelter or jobs in their hour of crisis.
Facing criticism for charging fares for rail tickets from stranded labourers, the railways on Monday said that the “sending states” should pay for transporting migrant workers on Shramik Special trains and it was up to them to decide how to fund this cost.
“As per the guidelines issued, the sending state will pay the consolidated fare to Railways. 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 in a statement.
“Without a ticket, passengers cannot go, so we are issuing tickets to each passenger,” it said. The statement came in the wake of criticism of the railways’ guideline on the Shramik Special trains that said, “Local 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.”
A senior railway ministry official, requesting anonymity said the railways was charging around 15 per cent of the costs incurred to run the Shramik trains from the state governments. “We are running Shramik Special trains only on request from the state governments. We are charging the states about 15 per cent of the costs incurred to run these trains,” he said, adding that the cost includes disinfecting the trains, water bottles, food, masks and trains returning empty under lock and key.
A senior railway ministry official related to the development also said that the national transporter was mulling the idea of providing free journey to migrant workers stranded across the country. “And a decision on the same will be taken in next couple of days,” he added.
Meanwhile, Union Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal at a press conference said, “Permission has been given to run special trains for movement of stranded people, based on the request of states. Centre has not ever talked of charging train fare from workers. 85 per cent of fare will be borne by Indian Railways and 15 per cent by the state government.”
He said, except one or two states all states are cooperating. The politics over the train tickets on Monday became a massive row after Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi announced that the party will pay for the train tickets of the migrants.
Hitting out at the central government’s decision to charge for the rail tickets from the stranded migrant labourers, Sonia Gandhi termed the current crisis at par with the “partition” of the country in 1947. “Even today, lakhs of workers and migrant labourers are languishing in different parts of the country and wish to return to their homes and families but there is neither adequate money nor provision for free transport. 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 in a statement.
Sonia Gandhi said, “The Congress has, therefore, taken a decision that every Pradesh Congress Committee (state unit) shall bear the cost for the rail travel of every needy worker and migrant labourer and shall take necessary steps in this regard.”
“This will be the Congress’ humble contribution in service of our compatriots and to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with them,” she said. Following the Congress decision, Rajya Sabha member and the BJP leader Subramanian Swamy tweeted that he had a word with the office of the Railways minister Piyush Goyal and the Centre government will pay 85 per cent of the migrant fare and the remaining 15 per cent state governments will bear.
“Migrant labour will go free. Ministry will clarify with an official statement,” he said. As per the guidelines issued, the home or sending state will pay the consolidated fare to Railways. The railways, which has suspended the passenger, mail and express train services in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, has decided to run the Shramik Special trains to transport the migrant workers from May 1. Since May 1, the national transporter has operated 34 Shramik Special trains.
The railways are only running the freight and special parcel trains to ensure the supply of essential items during the lockdown. On Monday, the total number of Covid-19 cases in India rose to 42,836 with 1,389 people losing their lives due to pandemic across the country. (IANS)