Nearly 70,000 stranded migrants have been ferried to various parts of the country in 'Shramik Special' trains since May 1 at the estimated expense of over Rs 50 crore, railway officials said on Tuesday even as the issue of their travel cost remained a matter of political bickering with the Congress and BSP leaders attacking the railways for charging money from these migrants.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of migrants in many states anxiously awaited to return home, including in Goa, where nearly 80,000 labourers, mostly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, have registered themselves to return to their native places even as chief ministers of Goa and Karnataka appealed to these workers stranded there due to COVID-19 lockdown not to leave the states and assured them work.
A day after opposition parties, including the Congress, launched a scathing attack against the Union government and the railways for charging money from migrants for the travel, sources in the railways said the national transporter is spending around Rs 80 lakh per service for the special trains, and it has run 67 such trains carrying around 67,000 stranded migrants since May 1--- incurring an expenditure of over Rs 50 crore.
While the Railways has not made official how much it has spent on running these trains so far, the government has said the cost was shared on a 85:15 ratio with the states.The railway officials also indicated that for the first 34 trains, the national transporter has spent Rs 24 crore, while the states have spent Rs 3.5 crore.
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said it was "unfortunate" that the Centre and the state governments were charging money from stranded migrant workers.
"if governments hesitate in paying the fare of these migrants, the BSP will take help of its cadre and will contribute in making arrangements for these workers," she added.
After his party on Monday offered to pay for stranded migrants, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel on Tuesday claimed that the railways collected Rs 3.5 crore running trains and the money came from the poor migrants.
"The railways collected Rs 3.5 crore by running trains last week. This money came from poor migrants who had no income since last 2 months yet some propaganda factories claimed this was untrue. The Congress is committed to support any individual-who can’t afford to pay-to board these trains," Patel tweeted.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat chief minister's office said the state government does not keep any money collected from the sale of train tickets to migrant workers heading to their hometown and merely acts as a facilitator and transfers fares to Railways, officials said on Tuesday, rejecting the allegation of charging such travellers.
The assertion came in the wake of the Congress claim that the state government is not providing free of cost travel to the poor and unemployed migrant workers heading to their native places amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
Over two dozen trains carrying migrant workers have left from various railway stations of Gujarat to different states in the last few days. Secretary in the Chief Minister's Office (CMO), Ashwani Kumar said,"the Gujarat government doesn't keep any money collected from the sale of train tickets. On the other hand, we are facilitating the travellers in registration, providing transportation till the train station and assisting in smooth boarding of passengers."
Over 1,100 labourers and pilgrims, who reached Dankuni in West Bengal from Ajmer, were greeted with flowers, officials said, adding all 1,186 passengers, including women and children, were subjected to medical examination for any COVID-19 symptom at a camp set up by the Health Department outside the station.
Another special train carrying about 1,200 migrant workers left for Khagaria in Bihar from Telangana's ghatkesar, a senior south central railway official said, adding that all the passengers were screened before they were allowed to board. This is the second train arranged for the workers in Telangana.
Similarly, another train from Rayannapadu near Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh left for Chandrapur in Maharashtra, the SCR official added.
In Ahmedabad and Surat, scores of migrant workers, desperate to travel back to their native states, came out on streets, officials said. While more than 1,000 migrant workers carrying luggage gathered in Nikol area in Ahmedabad following a rumour that buses would be run for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, several others came on streets in Varachha area of Surat city.
It took almost two hours in Ahmedabad for local police to persuade the migrants to vacate the busy crossroad near Ajit Mill police chowky, they said.
Thousands of migrant workers who left for their native places have got stranded in western Madhya Pradesh after they were stopped from proceeding further. Majority of these stranded labourers are from Uttar Pradesh, a Madhya Pradesh administration official said.
Meanwhile, the railways issued detailed guidelines on security and sanitisation protocols to its various zones, running 'Shramik Special' trains, asking them to watch out for the possibility of sectarian feuds and troublemakers on board, and keep an eye on the behaviour of passengers.
The Railways, in its guidelines issued on Monday, has divided the protocols into three broad sections -- originating station, destination station and on board the trains. It has also spoken on security arrangements that need to be made at all entry and exit points at the stations as well as on the trains.
"Enhanced presence of security personnel. Hiring of ex-servicemen, home guards, private security etc. Close interaction with intelligence agencies will be maintained to ascertain any possibilities of a sectarian feud or group conflict among the passengers. In the event of information about any such possibility, suitable precautions may be taken like enhanced presence of security personnel at the origin, en route and destinations.
"Intensive watch on the behaviour of the passengers will be kept and any troublemakers identified and separated from the group. In the event of increased hostility, state police may be informed to intervene as soon as possible," the guidelines said.
The Railways also stated that sanitisation of trains has to be done both at the originating and the destination stations.