Transporting migrants: Centre should have devised a cost-sharing plan or taken care of the entire bill
So many have demanded that the Centre bears the cost of travel. The chief ministers of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have spoken out against the decision to burden the states further. But, the Centre has not made any announcementUpdated: May 03, 2020 19:35 IST
As the national lockdown to combat the coronavirus disease (Covid-19)-sparked crisis was extended for another two weeks on Friday, the Union government announced that the Indian Railways (IR) will start running special trains to ferry stranded labourers from their host to home states. This has been the demand of the migrant workers since the beginning of the lockdown on March 24 because the shutdown of their workplaces has left them with no money to pay for housing and food. In the absence of any transportation, many desperate migrant workers have been walking and cycling impossible distances to the safety of their home towns/villages.
The decision to transport migrant workers, however, is turning out to be a new flashpoint between the Centre and states over who will bear the cost of transportation. On May 3, the Indian Railways said that it is the responsibility of the state authorities to collect ticket fares from stranded migrants and students boarding special trains to return to their hometowns and hand over the amount to it or pay the amount from its coffers. The service provider is charging sleeper class fares and an additional Rs 50 for one point-to-point journey. However, there is little clarity over whether states need to book trains, as Jharkhand has done, and pay upfront, or pay later. Left on their devices, different states are trying out different mechanisms for payments: Either raising money or charging it from poor migrant workers. This is because states are already facing huge funds crunch due to the high expenses incurred for tackling the pandemic and revenues have decreased. So many have demanded that the Centre bears the cost of travel. The chief ministers of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have spoken out against the decision to burden the states further. But, the Centre has not made any announcement.
The payment controversy could have been avoided if the Centre and the two states (host and home) had formulated a cost-sharing plan. While all three parties had enough time to do so since the lockdown was announced almost a month and a half ago, the Centre should have taken the lead in formulating this critical cost-sharing plan to ensure that there is no controversy over what is primarily humanitarian assistance to poor and desperate migrant workers. Better still, it should taken care of the entire bill.