Railway board in a huddle as Congress offers to pay for travel of migrants

Migrant workers wait to board a special train for Ranchi, in Kozhikode. Photo: PTI
After a decision by the Congress party to bear the cost of train travel by the migrant workers, the Centre government is likely to come out with an announcement making the travel on Shramik Special trains free for migrant labourers.

According to an official source close to the development, there are plans to make the journey free for migrant labourers. On Monday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said in a letter to the state units that every Pradesh Congress Committee shall bear the cost of rail travel for every needy worker and migrant labourer. At present, labourers are being charged sleeper class fares and an additional Rs 50 for a pre-decided source to destination journey.

Hitting hard at the government's decision to charge stranded migrant labourers, Sonia Gandhi termed the current crisis at par with the partition of the country. "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.

Statement Of Congress President Smt. Sonia Gandhi

The Indian National Congress has

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 pic.twitter.com/kxruKa0xgI

— Congress (@INCIndia) May 4, 2020
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.

When asked about this, a Railways official said that there is no official decision taken in this regard.

Talked Piyush Goel office. Govt will pay 85% and State Govt 15% . Migrant labour will go free. Ministry will clarify with an official statement

Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) May 4, 2020
As per the guidelines issued, the home or 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 receiving state after mutual consultation or may charge it to any fund. It is purely their prerogative. Without a ticket, passengers cannot go, so we are issuing tickets to each passenger," said another railways official. The migrant special trains or Shramik specials are run for a single destination, covering over a distance of 500 kilo metres. These trains normally carry around 1,200 people in 24 coaches.

Gandhi even criticised the Railways move to donate to the PM's corona fund, while continue charging migrants for their tickets. An estimate indicates that the total fare for a Shramik Special running an average 2,000 km would cost a little under Rs 10 lakh.  "When our Government can recognise its responsibility by arranging free air travel for our citizens stranded abroad, when the Government can spend nearly Rs 100 crores on transport and food etc. for just one public programme in Gujarat, when the Rail Ministry has the largesse to donate Rs 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?," she added.

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