Why aren’t Congress-ruled states and WB fully utilising Shramik Trains to return migrant labor home?

From May 1, the railways has run 974 Shramik Special trains, ferrying more than 12 lakh migrant workers who were stranded in various parts of the country due to the coronavirus-triggered lockdown, officials said on Friday. 805 of those trains have terminated at various stations, 169 are in transit, and 90 more are in the pipeline.

Out of 1064 approvals for these trains received from states, Uttar Pradesh has given the maximum approval for 526 trains, followed by Bihar for 269 and Madhya Pradesh for 81 trains. The number stands at 52 for Odisha, 50 for Jharkhand, 23 for Rajasthan and only 9 for West Bengal.

The railways has said that it has the capacity to run 300 such trains per day, which can carry up to 4 lakh migrant workers each day. On 14th May, railways crossed the milestone of carrying over 2 lakh passengers back to their home states on a single day through 145 of these special trains.

Which states are receiving and sending most migrants?

The Shramik Trains are run by Railways only after concurrence is given both by the state which is sending the passengers and the state which is receiving them.

In terms of destination states, UP (20 crore population, 526 trains) and Bihar (9.9 cr, 269 trains) account for nearly 80% of all the Shramik Trains, which shows they have been the most pro-active in terms of getting their migrants back home. Given that these two are the most populous states in Bharat which are less industrialised and have a large migrant labor population working in other states, the numbers don’t look surprising at first glance. MP (7.3 cr, 81 trains), Odisha (4.6 cr, 52 trains) and Jharkhand (3.2 cr, 50 trains) also have done ok, given their respective state populations.

But West Bengal (9.3 cr, 9 trains), which is almost as populous as Bihar is lagging badly – it has hardly shown any interest in getting its migrant population back home. Rajasthan (6.9 cr, 23 trains) & Chattisgarh (2.5 cr, 14 trains) are also lagging, although Chattisgarh CM Baghel has claimed that the state had sought permission for 30 trains and so far they have received the go ahead for only 14. If you are wondering why a destination state is not given permission for all trains sought by it when the Railways has capacity to run more trains (remember, they can run upto 300 trains and are currently running half that number), it is because Railways also needs concurrence of the sending state.

So let’s look at which states are at the forefront of sending migrant workers back home. Here, Gujarat is head and shoulders above everybody else having sent back nearly 5 lakh migrants in 360 trains. As per a Times of India report dated 14th May, Punjab and Telangana have also sent a large number of migrants home. Kerala has also been reported as one of the major originating states, although exact count of trains is not known.

The biggest worry is Maharashtra, an industrialised state with a high concentration of migrants, but which has sent only 161 trains, far less compared to others.

On April 14th, after PM Modi announced lockdown extension till 3rd May, a huge crowd of migrant workers had gathered outside a mosque in Bandra, Mumbai demanding trains to return home to Bihar and West Bengal. Although that ‘protest’ was later shown to be engineered by some NCP-linked politician, CM Uddhav’s son Aditya had latched on to the issue and claimed that the Maharashtra govt (MVA alliance between Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena) had been consistently demanding more trains and a roadmap to return migrants back home. Maharashtra HM Anil Deshmukh had also claimed “people’s anger burst on streets as people stuck in Mumbai were expecting lockdown to end & they’ll be allowed to go home.”

So now that the Central Govt. is arranging trains for migrants to go home, why isn’t Maharashtra government doing more to expedite their return? A state which surely has far more migrant laborers than Gujarat, has sent less than half the number of trains sent by Gujarat?

When the Shramik special trains had been announced on 1st May, Sonia Gandhi had shed copious tears over the plight of migrant labourers, comparing it to the 1947 partition tragedy, and with the aid of her Lutyens’ media acolytes had tried to spread misinformation that Central Government was asking migrant workers to pay for their train tickets. The Centre clarified that the fare is being shared on 85-15 ratio by the railways and the state governments.

The 15% state contribution has to be worked out between the originating and destination states, with no money charged from migrant workers. Even then, passengers travelling to Bihar revealed that states like Maharashtra and Communist-ruled Kerala have been charging full sleeper-class fare from them. The same passengers confirmed that free food and bottled water was provided by the railways. According to a PTI report, all state governments except Maharashtra have been paying for railway fare of Shramik trains – Maharashtra Government alone is charging the migrants for the trips.

AAP-ruled Delhi first made a big show of paying for the tickets of workers returning to Bihar, but then quietly asked the Bihar government to reimburse the money.  The AAP Government had also cynically sparked an exodus of UP & Bihar migrant labourers from Delhi just one day after Lockdown 1.0 was announced.

Our hearts go out to migrant workers and other poor sections of society who have been hit hardest by the Covid19 pandemic and associated lockdown. We wish the Centre would do more to alleviate their suffering and expedite their return home, or kickstart the economy so that migrant labourers have the option of restarting work. But there are limits to what the Centre can do in a federal set up like Bharat.

The Covid10 pandemic and migrant crisis have once again demonstrated how states ruled by Congress and secular favourites like Mamata Banerjee, Pawar, Kejriwal etc. lag behind others. Such state governments suffer from multiple structural problems – allegiance to the Nehru-Gandhi family or other regional dynasties, abnormal corruption, acute minority appeasement, shaky coalitions – which invariably result in poor governance. While BJP-ruled states generally fare much better, even ‘secular’ leaders like KCR, Naveen Patnaik and Capt. Amarinder Singh who are more independent and popular at grassroots level tend to govern better.


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