A migrant shows his special train ticket at Patna railway station in Bihar | Photo: ANI
A migrant shows his special train ticket at Patna railway station in Bihar | Photo: ANI
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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s decision to make stranded migrants pay for their own tickets on special trains arranged to take them to their home states triggered a massive controversy Monday, as the Congress latched on to the issue and offered to pay for their travel instead.

While the central government and the BJP sought to put an end to the controversy by stating that the Union railway ministry is bearing 85 per cent of the travel costs, and states are paying the remaining 15 per cent, railway ministry officials told ThePrint that there is no official communication stating this, or explaining the break-up of costs.

The government decided to run a total of 100 trains to ferry stranded migrants to their home states, and as of Monday, 31 trains have already run. In his daily press briefing, Joint Secretary, Health, and government spokesperson Lav Agarwal said the Government of India or the Railways had never said anything about charging migrants, and that the Centre is bearing 85 per cent of the travel costs of the special trains.

However, a letter issued by the Ministry of Railways to its general managers across the country Saturday had said: “The local state government authority shall hand over the tickets to the passengers cleared by them and collect the ticket fare and hand over the total amount to railways.”

Railway ministry sources said Saturday’s letter stands as is, and there is no change in the guidelines issued by the Centre. Even D.J. Narain, the Press Information Bureau officer for the railway ministry, confirmed to ThePrint that there has been no change in the guidelines issued by the ministry, and a press release to this effect would be issued shortly. But it hadn’t been put out by the time of publication of this report.


Also read: Modi govt’s handling of migrants’ rail fares exposes its confusion. Congress cornered it


Justification of the break-up

A railway ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity explained the 15:85 split as follows: “When a migrant train runs from point A to B, the ticket fare constitutes just 15 per cent of the total expense involved. The rest, 85 per cent of the expense, involves fuel charges, personnel charges, food, water, ensuring social distancing norms, extra coaches etc., which is borne by the Railways itself…

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“This breakup is being put in the public domain so that people know the Railways is anyway absorbing a large chunk of the costs.”

However, another senior railway official questioned this claim, explaining that there is hardly any ancillary cost involved, given that food is a minor component and the trains run on electricity.

“We are not using the middle berths to maintain social distancing, but that’s about it. If fares are being borne by states, this so-called 85 per cent contribution is inexplicable,” the second official said.

Neither Railway Minister Piyush Goyal nor his ministry came forth to explain Lav Agarwal’s statement, while ThePrint’s requests for comment to the office of Railway Board Chairman V.K. Yadav remained unanswered.

Why Centre insists states pay migrants’ fare

The central government has maintained that since it was the states that had requested the special trains, they should pay for the travel, with officials dismissing comparisons with Indians being flown back from abroad without charge.

“This comparison with the Indian government flying people stuck abroad is unfounded,” said the first railway official quoted above. “Trains subsidise the fare all the time, while airlines make passengers bear the full cost of travel.”

A third railway official said it was the decision of the central government to fly back people stuck abroad, so it bore the cost. But in this case, since the states requested for these trains, they should bear the cost.

“It is a very small amount that the states could have offered to pay easily,” the third official said. “Even during emergencies, when the Air Force carries out rescue operations, the states are finally billed for it.”


Also read: If Railways refuses, make PM CARES pay fare: Swamy calls govt ‘moronic’ for charging migrants


Migrants stuck in ‘haggling’

The issue became the subject of much political wrangling Sunday with Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi announcing that the party would pay the train fare for migrants heading home. The BJP-led government labelled the move baseless, and one that would “mess up the entire system and create chaos”.

Former Union railway minister Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamool Congress said the “haggling” between the centre and states over the cost of transporting migrants is shameful and humiliating.

“This is not a normal situation… The Disaster Management Act is in force. That means that there is the rule of the Centre,” Rajya Sabha MP Trivedi said. “The total cost incurred to ferry migrants would be a pittance. For that small an amount, you are haggling — it is an absolute insult to the poorest of the poor.”

Amid all this, several migrants have remained unaware of the protocol required to use the special train facility.

“We have been stuck here since the lockdown started,” said Mukesh, a worker at a diamond factory in Surat, Gujarat, who is seeking to go back to his village in Bihar. “We have no idea who to go to…We have been told not to go to the railway station and buy tickets, then where do we go?”

Mukesh added: “When we go to the police station, they say, ‘go to the collector’s office’…We are struggling for food, how do we walk to the collector’s office 10 kilometres away?”

The Railways have maintained that nobody should come to stations to buy tickets, as none will be sold at counters.


Also read: Is govt right to send migrants back on trains as lockdown eases & economic activity resumes?


 

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12 Comments Share Your Views

12 COMMENTS

  1. so far The Bjp Modi Govt. has not done any good things for our country. They do ne ot know how to run the country during the crisis time ? but they have interested in TV news channel . speaking and preaching In the TV ..Zee News, Republic , and more News channel. This is a very very WEAK Govt. after independant. PM and Govt speaks lies ? no hesitation . India will be top most poorest country in the world soon. …I hate these fake News channel ? Betrayed and making fool to poor people of India.

  2. First thing is why are migrant workers being sent home? How will the factories and industrial units open without them?? Do we have any sense of the impact on villages for maintaining these people and not spreading the virus?

    Trains are a service – somebody has to pay, States want to send them home, they should pay…

  3. Will the Corona ever change the mind set of this govt and teach them some lessons to stop lying to the nation???? It’s hypocritical when the pm himself says he has learnt a lesson,, may we know what??? Why lie when there is no evidence of the govt paying, ,where are all the funds going,,,,, we suggest fraternities and NGO, s doing yeoman service do it directly and not through any govt schemes as no one knows where the funds are spent,,,, migrant workers are buying their own tickets proof of which are evident,,, so no more lies please

  4. Rs 68706/- Corores of loan defaulters by buisnessmen ( some have absconded out of country ) have been writeen off by the Govt., as it turns out that most are Govt.,’s buddies , but the Govt., is charging rail fare on the poor migrants , labourers and unorganised workers , who just want to reach home , this suffering of migrants in the first place is due to unilateral and timeless decision taken by our dear PM to lockdown the whole country , without considering the effects of this decision nor consulting experts who could have guided the PM , now this poor migrants , with no work , money , ration , medicines etc.are being asked to pay up while the State Government , Central Government and Railway Minister play ‘ Pehle Aap Pehele Aap …’

  5. This is a conspiracy against the poor labour class people just only to work for the industrialists and rich class people and not to move anywhere.

  6. Do you guys have some sensible materials to publish?
    Trolling government and its agencies is very easy but what is that you are doing?
    Just publishing venom and dumb news which trust me very few are reading.

  7. Even if there are one crore migrants who need to be shifted by trains, and the average price of a ticket is, say, rupees 800/-, then the TOTAL cost of transporting all the migrants for free would be ONLY RUPEES 800 CRORES.
    Even in the latest round of donations, after COVID breakout, there must be thousands of crores collected IN PM CARE. Why can’t they that fund pay up the entire 800 crores?
    I too had made my humble contribution to the fund, and in the comment line I wrote, “to help migrant workers”. If the poor guys are being made to pay for their tickets when they have been starving, then I WANT MY MONEY BACK. I have no hesitation in concluding that the people who are managing PM CARE fund have got their priorities wrong. If money is being spent not on poor and homeless sufferers, but ob wellfed, securely sheltered patients, then I want my money back. I am not interested in helping. Let God do it.

  8. A inhuman, callous and stupid govt. in all respect !! They have divide the people of India into two parts- have and have nots. Always they are in favor of the rich and urbans and ignoring the vast work force of this country!1 Shameless leaders who are enjoying the fruit of election 2019 !! They will face this in the next election !!

  9. The cost of maintaining the trains, paying salaries, paying fuel, paying pensions, and hundreds of other expenses don’t seem to count in your opinion. Perhaps, we need accountants like you and everything will magically cost nothing.

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