Should Migrants be Compelled to Pay Train Fares: Centre and Opposition Engage in Full Fledged War of Ideology

migrants train
Migrant workers at Railway station in que. Image source - Twitter

The issue revolving around the collection of fares from migrant labourers for ferrying them across to their respective states in specially arranged trains amid the lockdown has turned into a full fledged battle between the Centre and the Opposition. The controversy about the Indian Railways charging train fare from the stranded migrants to ferry them to their respective states amid the lockdown has become quite explosive, with a series of allegations and counter-allegations doing rounds between the Centre and the Opposition.  Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi said that the workers and migrant class were the backbone and the Congress  Committee in every state would bear the cost for the rail travel for them.

The government sources clarified on Monday that respective states have been paying for transporting migrants to their respective states. As per sources, the government has listed the payment mode as per which most of the states are paying for the operation of the special Shramik Special trains meant for transporting stranded migrant workers. The sources reveal that the payment model given below has emerged from the 15 special trains that were run by the Indian Railways until the 2nd of May,2020.

NorthWestern Railway(Payment by sending state)

West Central Railway(Payment directly by receiving station)

South Central Railway(Sending state payment directly)

Central Railway(Passengers paid through sending state)

Southern Railway(Payment received from sending state so far for 3 trains)

Western Railway(NGO paid through sending state)

Government sources have gone ahead and said that states like Jharkhand have already made the payments. States like Rajasthan and Telangana are also paying for the travel of the workers in their states. Gujarat roped in an NGO to pay for part of the services. Sources also said that Maharashtra was the only state that had been asking the migrants to pay the train fare. Maharashtra Minister Nitin Raut has written to CM Uddhav Thackery and asked to arrange for the payment of the tickets for the migrant workers. 

The railways began to run special trains on Friday to ply a large number of migrant workers stranded in different states in the phase of the lockdown. According to the guidelines that had been issued by the government, “The originating state shall plan the group of travellers accordingly. The local state government authority shall handover tickets to passengers cleared by them and collect the ticket fare and hand over the total amount to Railways.”

The railways denied having charged any payment from the migrant workers and said that it was dealing only with the state governments. The Centre said that it wasn’t feasible to wave off these charges because the railways was incurring charge as well as bearing the cost of meals for these migrant worker. But the railways had decided to subsidise the train fare by 85%. According to the initial plan, the railways had given the responsibility of providing food, security, conducting scanning and providing the ticket to the stranded migrants to the state from which the train was originating but it however took the burden of providing one meal to passengers whose journey would be for more than 12 hours. 

But the decision to charge from migrant workers invited criticism from various quarters.

In response to the decision, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said, “If you are struck abroad during the Covid crisis this government will fly you back for free but if you are a migrant worker stranded in another state be prepared to cough up the cost of travel(with social distancing cost added). Where did PM Cares go? Like I said earlier you were better off getting stranded overseas and flown back home!”

CPI(M)General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said that the situation with the migrant workers was nothing but a result of the Centre’s abrupt announcement of the lockdown. He also said that while the Centre bore the entire responsibility and cost of bringing back Indians stuck abroad, it should have taken a similar responsibility for migrant workers.

The Indian Railways ran five Shramik trains on Friday, which was the first day of operation for the trains. On Saturday 10 trains were run. For Sunday, it had planned 25 trains but could run only 10 including two each to Jharkhand and Bihar and one each to Bhubaneshwar and Lucknow. On Monday, the first train will be sent to West Bengal.