Hours after Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Monday (May 4) announced that the party will bear the cost of rail travel of migrant labourers on their way home in special trains, the Congress said its state units will work out the modalities of paying the Railways after coordinating with chief secretaries.
Congress general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal said he has already spoken to state Congress chiefs and they are working out the modalities to ensure that every worker and migrant stranded reaches home safely. He said the state PCC in Karnataka has already made a beginning by depositing ₹1 crore with the state chief secretary and would provide more in case required.
Congress leader Randeep Surjewala added that this was not the time to play politics. The government should wake up from its slumber and come to the aid of migrant workers, he said.
Earlier in the day, Gandhi in a statement announced the party’s decision to pay the travel fare of needy migrant workers and labourers stranded at their workplaces due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown and seeking to return home.
She said this would be the Congress humble contribution in standing shoulder to shoulder with these workers.
Taking a dig at the railways Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “On the one hand, the Railways is charging ticket fares from labourers stranded in other states, while on the other hand, the Railway Ministry is donating ₹151 crore to the PM-Cares Fund. Just resolve this puzzle.”
Sonia Gandhi also accused the central government and the Railways of completely ignoring the demands made by the Congress for ensuring the safe and free travel of migrant workers and labourers to their homes.
“There needs to be provisions for the safe and free rail travel of migrant workers and labourers to their home-towns. However, despite our repeated demands, the central government and the Rail Ministry have chosen to completely ignore the same.
“The Indian National Congress has, therefore, 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,” she said in a statement.
Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel tweeted, “As directed by Congress President, in my capacity as Treasurer (AICC) I request Pradesh Congress Committees to mobilise all possible local resources to help migrants purchase tickets to get back home. Let us make this into a peoples movement, please contact AICC if you require assistance.”
Gandhi noted that lakhs of migrants continue to walk hundreds of kilometres to reach back their homes without food, water, medicines and cash.
She criticised the central government for not recognising its responsibility and said if it can bring back free of cost citizens stranded abroad by air, why can’t the same responsibility be shown towards the poor migrants who are considered ambassadors of the nations growth.
In the statement released, Gandhi questioned why the Centre was not in favour of paying the travel fare for migrant labourers, who are the “backbone of our economy” and “the ambassadors of our nation’s growth.”
“When our Government can recognise its responsibility by arranging free air travel for our citizens stranded abroad, when the government can spend nearly ₹100 crores on transport and food etc. for just one public programme in Gujarat, when the Rail Ministry has the largesse to donate ₹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,” the statement read.
Comparing the current situation of exodus of migrants to the 1947 post partition era, Gandhi said, “Post the partition of 1947, this is the first time India witnessed a tragedy with such a massive human cost as thousands of migrant workers and labourers were forced to walk home several hundred kilometres on foot – without food, without medicines, without money, without transportation, without anything except for the desire to return to their families and loved ones.”
(With inputs from agencies)