India has moved into the third phase of lockdown, with migrant workers who sought to travel to their home state are now permitted to do so. The nation currently reports around 29,000 active cases with nearly 1,400 deaths.
Millions of migrants workers were stranded in different parts of the nation as well as abroad since worldwide lockdown, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown on March 24 to contain the spread of coronavirus.
India took no time in rescuing its citizens who were stranded abroad, by operating special flights to bring them back as the pandemic struck the world.
However, it took more than a month to arrange special trains and bus services to ferry migrant workers who pleaded to return to their home town.
Many of them were seen walking and cycling for hundreds of kilometers to go back to their villages, with no access to food. Many lost their lives during the daunting journeys; the migrant exodus in India continues.
Government’s approves transportation of Migrant Workers
After the first 40 days of the lockdown, on May Day, the Central Government finally decided to start operating “Shramik Special” trains to transport the migrant workers to their home states.
The Government operated five trains from Maharashtra, Telangana, Kerala, and Rajasthan to transport more than 7,000 people, including stranded laborers, pilgrims, tourists, and students.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on May 1 came up with a notification on this. Hours before the announcement, the first train carrying 1,200 migrants to Hatia in Jharkhand started from Lingampalli in Telangana.
After the Government announced guidelines for the transport of stranded laborers, there have been several reports about migrants workers being charged for train and bus fares while the local administrations are arranging some food.
Reports about the Kerala government asking the poor laborers to pay the base fare of Rs 875 for being transported to Jharkhand, special trains that left Maharashtra for different states, also charged migrant workers the basic fare.
These migrants workers were asked to pay their own fare, which caused outrage in the country. For daily wage earners who typically make around between 200 to 600 rupee a day, some ticket which might cost around Rs 800 is just a dream considering that they have not been in work for long.
Meanwhile, the Railways that has declared the operation of “Shramik Special” trains for migrant workers and other stranded citizens. They also made it clear that it will be charging respective State Governments for the services.
Railways start 'Shramik Special' Trains to move migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places due to lock down
— Ministry of Railways (@RailMinIndia) May 1, 2020
The fare includes the cost of a sleeper class ticket, superfast charge of Rs 30, and Rs 20 for meals and water per passenger.
Many have expressed their disappointment about the decision of Government over the fare being charged.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren expressed his concern over twitter, stating that: “This is really sad. The Central Government should reconsider this decision. In this hour of disaster, it is an injustice to the labor colleagues returning home.”
This decision has been hit by opposition parties and civil society members, stating it as an ‘inhuman’ to expect daily-wage laborers who have not had an income in months, to pay the fare.
Congrees Party to pay fare:
Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi also slashed Centre’s decision and stated that her party would bear the cost of transporting the migrant workers.
Announcing the same, she stated that the laborers are the backbone of the economy and that every Pradesh Congress Committee shall bear the cost for the rail travel of every worker plus migrant laborer also shall take necessary steps in this regard.
She further attacked the Central Government by questioning why only the migrants were being asked to pay the fare when the Government had made arrangements to fly back citizens stranded in other countries free of cost.
The Centre defended the move by stating that it was necessary to ensure that only those who were “really stranded” would use the train services.
Rahul Gandhi ji,
I have attached guidelines of MHA which clearly states that “No tickets to be sold at any station”
Railways has subsidised 85% & State govt to pay 15%
The State govt can pay for the tickets(Madhya Pradesh’s BJP govt is paying)
Ask Cong state govts to follow suit https://t.co/Hc9pQzy8kQ pic.twitter.com/2RIAMyQyjs
— Sambit Patra (@sambitswaraj) May 4, 2020
Furthermore, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sambit Patra on May 4, clarified that for each ‘Shramik Express’ with about 1,200 tickets to the destination were handed by the railways to the state government concerned.
BJP on Monday also clarified that Indian Railways would pay 85 per cent train fares of migrant workers. The remaining 15 per cent, state governments will have to pay.
This move came after Congress Rahul Gandhi backslashed Centre for charging money from migrant leaders.
BJP Rajya Sabha member also had earlier Subramanian Swamy condemned the Centre for making the migrants pay. However, he later informed his correction after having a word with Railways Minister Piyush Goyal.
Talked Piyush Goel office. Govt will pay 85% and State Govt 15% . Migrant labour will go free. Ministry will clarify with an official statement
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) May 4, 2020
Later on Monday it was also revealed that only Kerala, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan made the migrants pay for the railway tickets.
Report by Stranded Workers Action Network
Stranded Workers Action Network, a volunteer group, released a report after interviewing the migrant workers. The report revealed that 64 per cent of migrants interviewed till April 26 had less than Rs 100 left with them. The report also says that 99 per cent of the self-employed migrants they spoke to had no earnings during the lockdown period.
The report titled “32 Days and Counting: Covid-19 Lockdown, Migrant Workers and the Inadequacy of Welfare Measures,” has documented the experiences of migrant workers during the second phase of the lockdown period up to April 26.
Our new report '32 Days and Counting' is out, documenting the experiences of migrant workers during the 2nd phase of the lockdown https://t.co/Tfj5GA73Vf@svaradarajan @tajmahalfoxtrot @ShekharGupta @_YogendraYadav
— Stranded Workers Action Network(SWAN) (@StrandedWorkers) May 1, 2020
The report further states that as many as 50 per cent of those interviewed workers are left with less than one day ration and are finding it difficult to access the Government ration.
Out of the people who have contacted them for help, around 80 per cent have no access to government ration and have not received any income since lockdown.
Indeed as Congrees Chief said, the laborers are the backbone of the Indian economy, and as authorities stated, lockdown is to save the lives of people. However, lack of planning has hit the poorest and the most vulnerable citizens the hardest.
— MyGovIndia (@mygovindia) May 1, 2020