In a surprise move which seemed to have pushed the government on the backfoot, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday slammed the Railways for charging fares from stranded migrants returning home in special trains and announced that the Congress will pay for their travel.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi also slammed the government, saying he is unable to understand why the Railways donated Rs 151 crore to PM CARES and then charged fares from migrant workers.
Sonia’s move and Rahul’s attack triggered a sharp response from the BJP, which accused the opposition party of indulging in politics. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra tweeted, “Rahul Gandhi ji, I have attached guidelines of MHA which clearly states that ‘No tickets to be sold at any station’. Railways has subsidised 85% & State govt to pay 15%. The State govt can pay for the tickets (Madhya Pradesh’s BJP govt is paying). Ask Cong state govts to follow suit.”
Targeting Sonia, BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said, “Instead of spreading incorrect information, it would have made more sense if the Congress had instructed its state governments to foot the bill. Governments of Punjab, Rajasthan politicising the issue.”
Earlier, Sonia said the government denied migrant labourers the opportunity to return home by announcing the lockdown without notice, forcing them to walk several hundred kilometres without food. “Even today, lakhs of workers and migrant labourers are languishing in different parts of the country… but there is neither adequate money nor provision for free transport. What is particularly disturbing is that the Central Government and the Rail Ministry are charging them for train tickets…” she said.
Arguing that workers and labourers are the ambassadors of India’s growth, she said “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 crore on transport and food etc. for just one public programme in Gujarat, when the Rail Ministry has the largesse to donate Rs 151 crore 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?”
She said the Congress has “taken a decision that every Pradesh Congress Committee shall bear the cost for rail travel of every needy worker and migrant labourer…” Sources said the AICC has already transferred money to the state units. Calling the party president’s decision historic, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram said it “puts the Government of India to shame”.