State governments, barring Maharashtra, have so far paid for the 34 ‘Shramik Special’ trains that have been run so far for transporting stranded migrants to their home states amid the COVID-19 lockdown, said sources.
The Indian Railways and the Centre has been widely criticised for charging the migrants for ferrying them home during the pandemic, with several Opposition parties demanding that migrant workers shouldn’t be paying for their journey.
While the Congress on Monday (May 4) offered to pay for the trains, the BJP said the Railways was already providing subsidised tickets, bearing 85 per cent of the travel costs. The Railways is yet to issue an official statement.
The Railways has unofficially termed it as a “political battle”. But officials have been maintaining that it was charging only standard fare for these special trains from the state governments which is just 15 per cent of the total cost incurred.
“The Railways is running ‘Shramik Special’ trains, keeping berths empty in each coach to maintain social distancing. The trains are returning empty from destinations under lock and key. The Railways is providing free food and bottled water to the migrants. Nowhere in our SOP, we have said that fares be collected from travelling migrants,” said a senior Railways official.
Sources said states like Rajasthan and Telangana, where ‘Shramik Special’ trains have originated, are paying for the migrants, while Jharkhand, which has only received such trains, has also paid for the travel of their workers.
The Gujarat government has roped in an NGO to pay part of the travel cost, sources said, adding that only the Maharashtra government is charging the migrants for their trips.
Maharashtra state minister Nitin Raut has written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, requesting him to bear the travel cost of migrants leaving the state. On Sunday, Raut also wrote to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, requesting that the Railways bear the cost of transportation of migrants from the state.
Meanwhile, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in a video statement on Monday said the state government has been giving money to Railways for the transport of migrants. “No migrant needs to pay for their travel,” he said.
The Railways is charging the fare of sleeper class tickets, plus a super-fast charge of ₹30 and an additional charge of ₹20 for the ‘Shramik Special’ trains.
(With inputs from agencies)