In comeback to Sonia Gandhi, Centre points to 85% subsidy for migrant trains
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s offensive over the railways charging stranded migrants for their return trip has drawn a strong rebuttal from the Centre. The railways ministry said they were charging state governments just 15% of the calculated train fare for the special trains and it was for the states to bear this cost or get the migrant workers to pay.
“It is the stated position of the government that this facility has only been extended so that migrant workers who were stranded due to the lockdown could reach their destination. It was a limited relaxation to ease sufferings during the lockdown to help save lives, not spread the disease,” a senior railway board official said.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday surprised the government and the BJP on Monday with a sharp attack that accused the Centre of forcing migrant workers to pay for tickets in this hour of crisis. She has asked Congress workers across the country to raise funds to pay for these trains.
That call, one BJP leader said, appeared to be a “desperate attempt to revive the fortunes of the party rather than help the migrants”. There are at least two states - Nitish Kumar-ruled Bihar and Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Madhya Pradesh - that have decided to fund rail travel of its workers. Kumar said the state had funded the travel of students who had returned from Kota in Rajasthan and will do the same for migrant workers as well. “They won’t have to pay anything,” he said.
In a string of tweets, Chouhan also hit back at Gandhi declaring that she had been ill-advised. MP already has been paying for the trains, he said, asking the Congress to check what states ruled by her party were doing.
Officials said the decision to charge 15% fare also was taken so that state governments did not end up incentivising travel of migrants.
The railways are bearing the 85% cost of running these migrant trains, the official said. In addition to the basic subsidies built into passenger fare, these trains only carry 60 per cent of the capacity due to social distancing norms, have accompanying teams of paramedics and railway security officers to ensure no one gets off midway and returns without passengers on the way back. Besides, there are costs incurred at the receiving and sending stations.
Central government officials have, for days, been telling state governments not to encourage migrant workers to travel. It would not only slow down the economic revival process and make the recovery process longer but also could, as the World Bank had also warned south Asian countries, spread the vector across the region.
On Friday, the Centre, however, gave in to pressure from state governments which had been demanding special trains to take the stranded workers home and operated the first train between Telangana and Jharkhand.
Officials said the Covid-19 lockdown, however painful, was part of the containment process to check the spread of the Covid-19. This strategy has so far shielded the rural areas from the disease.
The government had mandated that migrant workers returning home should be placed under home quarantine to protect the local population.
But there have been several reports where villages have not allowed the migrant workers to return, insisting that they first go through the quarantine process at a facility on the outskirts.