New Delhi: The Modi government finally clarified Thursday that it is not paying for migrant labourers’ Shramik Express tickets, telling the Supreme Court that the bill is being footed by states.
The statement in court comes amid much confusion over who exactly is paying for the migrant labourers’ journey, with certain statements from the central government suggesting that it is bearing 85 per cent of the fare and states paying the remaining 15 per cent. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra had also claimed earlier this month that the central government is paying 85 per cent of the fare.
The central government’s clarification came as the Supreme Court, at a virtual hearing, took up a PIL on the problems being faced by migrant labourers stranded in different parts of the country amid the Covid-19 lockdown.
In a statement to the court, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing the central government, said the fare for the special Shramik trains organised by the railways is paid either by the originating state or the receiving one.
The migrant workers are not required to pay the fares, Mehta told a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S.K. Kaul and M.R. Shah.
When asked by the bench how it is ensured that the migrant workers are not harassed to pay for the tickets, Mehta said the states should file their respective reports in court.
The Shramik Express trains — special trains earmarked to carry migrant workers home from wherever they were stranded — were announced on 1 May, days before the central government extended the lockdown to its third phase.
Its initial run was marked by a furore over reports that the migrant labourers, hit hard by the lockdown, were being made to pay for the train journeys.
According to a notification issued by the railways on 2 May, the state governments were supposed to collect the ticket fare from the passengers and hand over the amount to the railways.
As the allegations also led to a political controversy, with opposition parties, particularly the Congress, attacking the Modi government on the issue, the central government said it is dividing “cost” on an 85 per cent-15 per cent basis with states.
Last week, addressing a press conference, Railway Board Chairman V.K. Yadav reiterated the claim.
Explaining the discrepancy, a railways ministry officer said the central government had never said it is bearing 85 per cent of the cost of the tickets, but maintained that it is paying 85 of the cost of running the trains. Of this, the officer said, ticket fare comprises 15 per cent.
“Running a train involves several costs…Ticket fare is just part of it,” the officer said. “What the government has told the court today is not at odds with what was said earlier.”
ThePrint reached a spokesperson of the railways ministry for a comment through WhatsApp, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
A senior officer from an opposition-ruled state said the back-and-forth on the issue was an “eyewash”.
“After maintaining for so long that they are bearing 85 per cent of the cost, at least today they have admitted that it is the states which are paying for the travel of the migrants.”
The Supreme Court Thursday ordered the central government and states not to charge either train fare or bus fee from migrant workers keen to go back to their native towns.