Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Monday directed the party’s state units to bear the cost for the rail travel of needy migrant workers.
In her statement early morning, Gandhi pointed to the irony of the government recognising its responsibility by arranging free air travel for the citizens stranded abroad but charging money from migrants for rail travel.
The Congress said Ministry of Railways has charged a "special fare" from migrants for the Shramik Special trains.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the Railway Board chairman has stated that the money was charged to not overcrowd the trains.
The Congress president also alluded to the welcome that Prime Minister Narendra Modi accorded to US President Donald Trump in Gujarat, where she said it spent nearly Rs 100 crore on transport and food for people who attended the event.
Gandhi said the Rail Ministry “has the largesse to donate” Rs 151 crore to the PM-CARE 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?”
Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel asked state unit chiefs to mobilise local resources to purchase tickets for migrants and make it a “people’s movement”.
On Sunday, Karnataka state unit chief DK Shivakumar threatened to protest if the BJP-run state government does not pay for the travel of migrants. He deposited Rs 1 crore for the purpose with the state chief secretary after the state unit said they have found the Railways charging money from migrant workers.
Within minutes of the Congress chief’s letter, there was an angry response from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy.
“How moronic of the Government of India to charge steep rail fares from the half-starved migrant labourers! Indians stranded abroad were brought back free by Air India. If Railways refuse to budge then why not make PM Cares pay instead?” he tweeted.
Swamy added that he has spoken with the “office” of Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, and said the government will pay 85 per cent and state government 15 per cent for the migrants. “Migrant labour will go free. Ministry will clarify with an official statement.”
BJP’s Sambit Patra claimed the Congress was misleading and there were clear instructions that the Railway Ministry and state governments would share the fare of migrants.
However, the Congress disputed this by pointing to how workers travelling from Kerala and Karnataka have been charged the fare.
However, news agency ANI quoting sources said the Railways is charging only standard fare from state governments, which is just 15 per cent of the total cost incurred by them. Railways is not selling any tickets to migrants and is only boarding passengers based on lists provided by states, it added.
The agency said the Railways is running 'Shramik special' trains keeping berths empty in each coach to maintain social distancing. The trains are returning empty from destinations. Free food and bottled water is being given to the migrants, it added.