The political war of words over the movement of migrant workers on Shramik Special trains continued as Railways Minister Piyush Goyal Friday accused governments of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan — all Opposition-ruled states — of not giving permission to receive the trains, drawing strong rebuttals from the states.
Targeting West Bengal, Goyal said he has been “given estimates that around 30-50 lakh migrant workers” from the state living across India want to go home, and accused the state of going slow in seeking trains to bring back its stranded people.
“West Bengal has just informed us, without giving any details, that it plans to take 105 trains over the next 30 days. If we ran 100 trains to West Bengal every day for the next 15-20 days, only then can everyone reach their homes and meet their families,” Goyal said in a video statement to news agency ANI posted on his Twitter account. “Till today, only seven trains were planned to the state,” he said.
Goyal said that at the rate at which Bengal was planning the trains, only 5-7 per cent of the migrants would be able to reach home by trains. “If only 100 trains are run over 30 days, in my estimate, just 5-7 per cent people will get the benefit of these trains. The rest may face much hardship. They may try to walk on the roads, walk along the tracks, go by trucks, cycle, buses, so many accidents may happen,” Goyal said.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee had on Thursday posted on Twitter a tentative schedule of 105 trains to West Bengal from all over India, which showed the state was planning to receive around four-five trains every day for the next one month.
As per West Bengal government’s official figures, more than 2.5 lakh migrant workers had applied to return to the state. According to some trade unions in West Bengal, more than 25 lakh migrant workers are stranded in different states.
When asked for data of “source” states, from where Shramik Special trains to Bengal were being planned, and from where there was demand to run trains, a spokesperson said the Ministry maintained no such data. “Railways only makes its trains available to the state governments on their request. It is for the state governments to decide who and how many need to travel through these Shramik trains,” the spokesperson said.
Asked how many states had sought trains to West Bengal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, the ministry spokesman said, “This information will be with the states. We only come into action when both states agree.”
Sources said that while states such as West Bengal and Rajasthan had been slow to give permission, there was no formal data on how many trains needed to be run to which state and to transport how many stranded migrants.
“The states’ nodal officers may have informal discussions with our nodal officers before putting in a formal request, but we do not maintain the data on such queries unless it is formalised,” said an official.
Goyal said 1,200 trains have been earmarked for the Shramik Specials and Railways can run 300 trains every day for the job. “I appeal with folded hands to the governments of West Bengal, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, to give permission to the trains and welcome their migrants,” he said.
Railways ran close to 1,000 Shramik Specials till Friday, transporting over 10 lakh stranded migrants. According to an official list, around 474 of them were to Uttar Pradesh (52 in the pipeline), 248 to Bihar (21 in the pipeline), 47 to Jharkhand (three in planning stage), eight to West Bengal, nine to Chhattisgarh (two in the pipeline), and 22 to Rajasthan (one more in the offing).
Taking to Twitter, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said, “There is no permission pending for any train with the government of Rajasthan. In fact, Rajasthan was in strong favour that Railways should be allowed for commute of migrants. But I am not surprised to see statement by Railway Minister, they are skilled in passing their failure on to state governments.”
A top government official said “so far, eight states – Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal and Jharkhand – have sought in-principle consent to send 38 trains to Rajasthan. And consent was given the same day”. As of Friday morning, 15 of these 38 trains had arrived in Rajasthan with about 18,000 passengers and as per officials, for both Friday and Saturday, a total of nine trains are expected to bring home an additional 12,000 migrants.
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel tweeted that Goyal’s statement was “baseless” and “without facts”. “Chhattisgarh had asked permission for 30 trains but got permission for 14. We paid Railways Rs 1.17 crore for these trains. There is no proposal pending on our end from any state or Railways,” Baghel tweeted.
Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren told the Indian Express that Goyal has been “misinformed” and that the state had given no-objection certificate for 110 trains, out of which 50 have reached the state. “Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has been misinformed by his office. I request him to run more and more trains. We have given NOC for 110 trains in which 50 have reached the state bringing 60,000 migrants,” he said.
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