Amidst a controversy over the issue of migrant labourers being allegedly charged for the train journey home, corruption-embroiled Congress President Sonia Gandhi tried to play her ‘Lady Bountiful‘ act once again. Making a grandiose announcement that the plight of the migrant labourers ‘languishing’ in different states was ‘enough to break our hearts’ and reminded her of the 1947 partition tragedy, she announced that Congress will ‘pay’ for rail travel of migrant workers.
So what is the real story here?
The lockdown which was slated to end on 3rd May was extended for another two weeks on Friday evening (May 1st). The same day, Government made an announcement that it had decided to run “Shramik Special” trains on the request of both the concerned State Governments to move migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places due to lock down, back home.
The announcement clearly mentioned the responsibilities of each party – sending state government would allow only asymptomatic passengers to travel, arrange sanitised buses for journey to railway station, provide meals and water at originating station; railways would provide meals enroute and ensure proper social distancing of travellers; destination state government would receive the passengers, screen and quarantine, if needed, and arrange further travel from the station.
At no point did the Ministry of Railways announcement mention anything about passengers having to buy tickets. As the trains were being run solely on request of the state governments, it was clear that the cost would be borne by the government and that only pre-approved passengers would be allowed to board. If anything, it was up to the respective state governments to announce how workers from their states should register for the trains, coordinate with local authorities etc.
But the media caught whiff of a potential controversy and started floating stories about cost of travel, who would pay etc.
The next day, 2nd May, Ministry of Railways issued another announcement to clarify –
“Railways only accepting passengers BROUGHT and FACILITATED by State Governments. No other group of traveler or individual are to come to station. Some Special trains being run on ONLY ON STATE GOVERNMENTS requests. No tickets being sold at any station.
Railways is ONLY accepting passengers BROUGHT and FACILITATED by State Governments.
All are advised accordingly. No one should spread any false news about it.“
By Monday morning, Sonia Gandhi had gone to town with her party’s alleged largesse for the suffering migrant workers, most of whom were desperate to return home from Congress or allies ruled states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Delhi where they were struggling to obtain rations and shelter, unlike non-Congress states like Telangana and Karnataka which did far better in caring for their migrant population.
So an exercise which required careful coordination between sending and receiving state governments, and where it was of utmost importance to avoid any irresponsible statements lest crowds start gathering at stations, media erupted with news that Congress was sponsoring ‘free travel’ for all migrant workers.
Central Government confirmed that railways has subsidised 85 per cent of ticket fare for the special trains and the state government has to pay the remaining 15 per cent – no money was supposed to be collected from the passengers. Where the government erred was in not anticipating the mischief that the Congress-led opposition and their media ecosystem was bound to play over this issue; they should have clarified this point about how travel cost was to be fully subsidised at the outset. Sadly, even after 6 years, Modi government’s official communication still follows a staid, bureaucratic, reactive template.
Now, it has been revealed that only Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Kerala had made migrants pay for their tickets. Other Governments which have requested these shramik trains like Odisha, UP, MP and sending Governments in Karnataka, Telangana etc. have not charged anything from the migrant workers. There are reports that Maharashtra government even charged Rs. 200 for a ‘medical test’ of the workers, which consisted of just a temperature check.
Basically, Congress state governments took money from the migrants for their travel, and Congress President Sonia Gandhi is now asking for the same money to be paid back to migrants. And durbari media is lapping it up.
In all this, what has been conveniently brushed under the carpet is that Congress, NPC, Shiv Sena ruled Maharashtra has totally failed at countering the Covid19 pandemic. The state has almost one-third of all Covid-19 cases in the country, with things spiralling out of control in the commercial capital Mumbai.
So bad is the coordination even between two Congress-ruled governments that 148 Sikh pilgrims who recently returned from Nanded, Maharashtra to Punjab turned out Covid-19 positive. Punjab Health Min Balbir S Sidhu said, “We are facing more problems as Maharashtra govt did not conduct the test of people who returned from Hazur Sahib in Nanded. If they had not conducted tests, then at least they should have informed us about it. We would have acted accordingly.”
We wonder why Sonia Gandhi, who was a month back touting her party’s ‘Bhilwara model’ and claiming credit for her son’s ‘early warning’ to the Congress-ruled government in Rajasthan, has failed to implement the same model in Maharashtra? That a lady sarpanch of a village in Bhilwara rebuked Sonia for not recognising the efforts & discipline of Bhilwara’s people and district administration, was water off a duck’s back for the dynast and her durbaris (courtiers). For the record, looks like the ‘Bhilwara model’ was not scalable to the rest of Rajasthan even – the state today has the fifth-highest no. of Covid-19 cases in the country.
A thoroughly corrupt party, with a woeful administrative and policy record, and with deeply compromised and uninspiring leadership is still being propped up as a realistic alternative by their servile, entrenched ecosystem. The only thing driving this cabal is Hindu hatred and a desperation to somehow return to the good old days of cutting deals and lining their pockets.
Did you find this article useful? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation and help pay for our journalism.