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Opinion | Railway's decision to run 400 trains daily for migrants is a welcome step

Rumour mongers are having a field day spreading baseless news on social media. On Tuesday, thousands of migrants assembled at Bandra terminus, Mumbai,  to catch special trains. Many of them told India TV that they had got calls from people claiming to be speaking from police stations, asking them to reach Bandra station soon. 

Rajat Sharma Rajat Sharma
New Delhi Published on: May 20, 2020 14:02 IST
Aaj Ki Baat May 19
Image Source : INDIA TV

Aaj Ki Baat May 19

I welcome two major decisions taken by Railways to help migrant workers wanting to go home. Today 200 trains are carrying 3,50,000 to take them to various districts. Tomorrow onwards 400 such special trains will run for migrants. 

Till now, the Shramik Specials that are being run required an elaborate procedure. Recipient state governments had to give clearances, the sender state governments had to prepare lists and carry out medical checks, before forwarding them to Railway authorities. All this was taking a lot of time. But now there will be no need to obtain consent from receiving state governments for sending these trains. 

This decision has been taken to prevent thousands of migrants from travelling on foot or on trucks to reach their home states. The Railways will only inform the Home Ministry about the trains that are being run. 

On Monday, when I spoke to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, he gave broad hints about this measure. A similar suggestion came from Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who wanted all migrants wishing to leave the capital to congregate in different stadiums state-wise and then sent by special trains on a single day.

There is no doubt that Indian Railways have shown tremendous speed in providing special trains to transport migrants to their states. So far, more than 1,800 special trains have been run. 

Take the example of UP. The state government had sought more than 1000 trains and the Railways fulfilled its demand immediately. Till now, more than  20 lakh migrants have been transported to their native states involving a cost of Rs 1,200 crores, to be shared by Centre and states on 85:15 basis. 

Today (Wednesday) 66 special trains will run for Bihar and nearly 100 trains to UP. Gujarat and Bihar governments had asked for 100 trains daily, and the Railways will run 200 special trains from today and 400 tomorrow. 

The only problem now is how to communicate this crucial piece of information to the migrant workers who are desperate to leave. I think, once 200 non-AC trains start moving from June 1 onwards through online booking, the migrant issue will be solved to a large extent.

Every responsible Indian citizen is worried about migrants walking with their family members on foot under a scorching sun. Whether chief ministers, or district collectors, or police chiefs or top bureaucrats, most of them feel uneasy watching these visuals almost every day. Proper communication is the need of the hour. 

There are rumour mongers, with political agenda, working overtime on social media and there are dishonest truck drivers out there waiting to fleece the poor. If migrant workers get correct information about the departure of special trains, I think, this issue can be resolved soon. 

The state governments need to earn the trust of the migrant workers. UP government has made arrangements to run special buses from the state border to each district. 235 special trains will run to UP from several states. Migrants from Bihar can reach Araria, Saharsa, Motihari, Bhagalpur, Gaya, Chhapra, Raxaul, Darbhanga, Barauni, Katihar and Purnea in 66 special trains running from today. 

If migrants exercise a bit of restraint, they can save themselves from being fleeced. There was this heart-rending story of a migrant worker who was being transported by a truck driver. On the way, he felt sick, but the driver did not stop. The worker died, and near Shivpuri (MP), the driver abandoned the migrant's body along with his infants on the roadside and decamped. Police later rescued the children. 

In Mumbai and Thane, truck drivers are making a killing by charging exorbitant fares from migrants. These migrants are then loaded on trucks like packed sardines. The truck driver then unloads these migrants near the border and leave them to their fate. 

In Ghaziabad, some truck drivers on Tuesday extorted money from desperate migrants promising them to take to their home districts in Bihar. In Vijay Nagar near Ghaziabad, the trucks were stopped, police disallowed drivers from transporting migrants. The workers had to leave the trucks. These workers will now be sent on buses after registration.

Rumour mongers are having a field day spreading baseless news on social media. On Tuesday, thousands of migrants assembled at Bandra terminus, Mumbai,  to catch special trains. Many of them told India TV that they had got calls from people claiming to be speaking from police stations, asking them to reach Bandra station soon. Police had to resort to mild lathi-charge to disperse the crowds. 

A similar rumour was floated on the Delhi-UP border. Thousands of migrants, including women and children, reached Ghazipur border to catch special buses promised on social media. Congress Seva Dal volunteers were also present as they had information that nearly 1,000 special buses organized by the party would ferry the migrants. Police had a tough time explaining to the migrants that no special buses would run without proper registration.

The confusion was worse confounded when UP authorities pointed out that out of the list of 1,049 buses provided by the Congress, only 879 were buses, 31 autos and 3-wheelers, and 69 ambulances, Canter, Tata Magic vehicles, cars and even school buses. In all 170 of them were not buses. State Congress leaders came up with buses on the Mathura border and insisted on carrying migrants. The state unit chief had to be arrested. 

This controversy could have been easily avoided. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wanted to help migrants by providing buses,  and she had every right as a citizen to do so. But her own party leaders were trying to show the UP government and its chief minister in a bad light. These leaders were openly alleging that the Chief Minister was not sympathetic towards the migrants. Naturally, the BJP leaders in UP came up with counter-charges. 

On the inclusion of 2-wheelers and 3-wheelers in the list of buses, one can assume that Priyanka may not have vetted the list herself. I believe, that both parties should not bring politics to a matter that is purely humanitarian. 

Even if some of the vehicles are not buses, or the buses being offered do not have proper certificates, the state government should have used the remaining 700-800 buses for transporting migrants. Congress should also refrain from saying that Yogi Adityanath has done nothing for the migrant workers. 

I have some figures with me: 1000 trains were used to transport 16,00,000 workers to UP, the largest number of 111 trains were for transporting 1,33,552 workers to Gorakhpur. Out of these, nearly 300 trains were run from Gujarat, 160 trains from Maharashtra and 123 trains from Punjab. 235 trains are on their way to UP carrying 2,96,626 migrants.

Apart from trains, Yogi Adityanath has run more than 12,000 buses. It goes to Yogi's credit that by Using these buses he brought back 6 lakh migrant labourers and their family members to UP. The Congress must give the credit where it is due, and avoid unnecessarily politicizing a humanitarian issue.

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