WHILE THEY are finally being allowed to return to their home states, migrant workers in Rajasthan have alleged that private bus operators are charging more than three times the fare fixed by the government.
Mehboob, 35, a resident of Supaul district in Bihar who was working in a garment factory in Jaipur, said he had to sell his cellphone to arrange for the bus fare.
“The private bus charged us Rs 4,500 per person. Before leaving Jaipur, government officials told us not to pay more than Rs 2,400. But as soon as we entered the highway, the driver stopped the bus at the first petrol pump and said that unless we paid Rs 4,000-4,500, the bus wouldn’t leave,” he said. The bus, which had about 30 passengers, left Rajasthan on Saturday night and reached Bihar on Monday morning.
“After being stuck in Jaipur for over one-and-a-half months, I didn’t have enough money for the bus fare. I had to sell my cellphone for Rs 5,000; I had bought it for Rs 12,000,” said Mehboob.
“We have fixed Rs 32 per km for non-AC and Rs 40 per km for AC buses, as the collective fare for the entire bus. Only 30 people are being allowed in buses which have a capacity of about 50 seats, in order to ensure social distancing. We are also in the process of fixing individual fare for each passenger,” said Ravi Jain, Rajasthan Transport Department Commissioner and Secretary.
According to this rate, a journey to Supaul, about 1,275 kms from Jaipur, should cost Rs 40,800 for the entire bus. If the bus has 30 passengers, each person should have to pay about Rs 1,360.
While the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation (RSRTC) is ferrying labourers for free, its services are restricted to within the state.
“Our buses went to Uttarakhand once — the Uttarakhand government will pay us the fare. Apart from that, for ferrying those stranded within the state and up to the state border, no fare is being charged,” said Naveen Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, RSRTC.
So, workers from outside the state have no option but to take the private buses.
Mohammed Yousuf, 32, also a resident of Bihar’s Supaul district who works as a tailor in an export house in Jaipur, said he had to borrow Rs 3,000 from an acquaintance to pay Rs 4,000 as bus fare. “I had registered on the government portal for migrants, but didn’t receive any message. There are a limited number of trains, we may have to wait 15-20 days. We didn’t have any money. We had to leave,” he said.
He too left Jaipur on Saturday, and reached Bihar on Monday.
Some workers who reached Bihar said they were also charged toll tax. Mohammed Hasim, a resident of Bihar’s Araria district who works in a sewing factory in Jaipur, is yet to leave for home. “The bus operators told us that we have to pay for the return journey as well. I am the sole breadwinner in my family. Since we don’t have any work, I don’t have any money,” he said.
But transport department officials said private buses are not supposed to charge for the return trip. “The rate of Rs 32 per km is only for the journey, not for the return trip… This is a balanced fare as every sector is under economic distress at present,” said R C Yadav, Additional Transport Commissioner (Tax, HSRP and Rules).
Transport Commissioner and Secretary Ravi Jain said action is being taken on individual complaints, and they will take a decision on fixing individual fares.
Meanwhile, activists said many migrants could not even afford Rs 32 per km.
“At this moment, when thousands of migrants are returning to their homes after spending all their money on sustenance during the lockdown, the government should ensure that they have to pay as little as possible… There has to be an official mechanism or a nodal officer to prevent such exploitation,” said Mukesh Goswami of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan.
In an official release, the state government said about 15 lakh migrants had registered till Sunday. According to the statement, about 60,000 migrant workers from other states had been sent home, while another 1 lakh had returned home to Rajasthan so far.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said that following Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s instructions, the state government had decided to pay their train fare.
“Those who have registered online, it will take some time to arrange trains and buses for them. At present, the migrant labourers leaving by trains are mostly those who are from institutional facilities and were living at shelter homes… Those who are leaving by private vehicles have made their own arrangements… We haven’t received any complaints of people charging excess fare so far,” said Ashok Kumar, Additional District Magistrate, Jaipur.
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