New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi today attacked the government for not giving migrants stranded by the coronavirus lockdown a free train ride home despite “100 crores” being spent on an event in Gujarat during the Trump visit and Rs 151 crore contributed by the railways to the PM-Cares fund. Calling it “disturbing”, the Congress president declared in a statement that her party would pay the train fare for migrants, the “backbone of our economy” and “the ambassadors of our nation’s growth”.
“When our Government can recognise its responsibility by arranging free air travel for our citizens stranded abroad, when the government can spend nearly Rs. 100 crores on transport and food etc. for just one public programme in Gujarat, when the Rail Ministry has the largesse to donate Rs. 151 Crores to the PM’s Corona fund, then why can’t these essential members of our nation’s fabric be given a fraction of the same courtesy, especially free rail travel, at this hour of acute distress,” Sonia Gandhi wrote in her statement this morning.
The centre, she said, barely gave a four-hour notice of the lockdown, so workers and migrant labourers were denied the opportunity to return to their homes.
“Post the partition of 1947, this is the first time India witnessed a tragedy with such a massive human cost as thousands of migrant workers and labourers were forced to walk home several hundred kilometres on foot – without food, without medicines, without money, without transportation, without anything except for the desire to return to their families and loved ones,” she wrote.
Even today, said the Congress president, lakhs of workers and migrant labourers were “languishing in different parts of the country” and wished to return to their homes and families but didn’t have money or free transport.
“What is particularly disturbing is that the Central Government and the Rail Ministry are charging them for train tickets in this hour of crisis.”
She said the centre and the railways ministry had chosen to completely ignore the Congress’s repeated demands to help the migrants.
“The Indian National Congress has, therefore, taken a decision that every Pradesh Congress Committee shall bear the cost for the rail travel of every needy worker and migrant labourer and shall take necessary steps in this regard,” she said.
As the countrywide lockdown to combat the coronavirus was extended for another two weeks, the government started running special trains since Friday for migrants to travel to their home states.
State governments have been asked to collect the ticket price from the migrants.
“The local government authorities shall handover the tickets to the passengers cleared by them and collect the ticket fare and handover the total amount to the railways,” the Railways Ministry said in a circular
The move has been slammed by several opposition parties who have been asking the centre to bear the cost.
Lakhs of migrant workers and others were left stranded without jobs, money, food or shelter, far from home after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown on March 25.
Since then, group of migrants have, in desperation, started journeys on foot or tried other means to reach home.