What’s Worse Than Keeping Migrant Workers Locked Up? Asking Them to Pay for Their Journey Home

Coronavirus

What’s Worse Than Keeping Migrant Workers Locked Up? Asking Them to Pay for Their Journey Home

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

As the Armed Forces showered petals over the country on Sunday in a gesture of solidarity with the nation’s “Corona Warriors”, thousands of migrant workers on the streets below were caught up in yet another political debate.

Over a month after being assured that they would be sent back home as soon as possible, reports said on Sunday that migrant labourers who booked berths on the special Shramik trains were asked to pay the regular fare, along with a ₹50 surcharge. The new charges came into force on May 1.

It wasn’t just the trains, though. According to a report, those who booked buses to cross district and state lines in Karnataka had to pay nearly four times as much as hiring an air-conditioned taxi.

Given that many of these passengers are daily wage labourers, who have been left without work for 40 days, and whose attempts to travel back home have been captured and discussed in excruciating detail, the fee didn’t go down well with most.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, and Rajasthan’s Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, were among heads of states who requested that the central government waive the charge. As did Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav.

Then, on Monday morning, Congress president Sonia Gandhi announced that the Pradesh Congress Committees would bear the cost on behalf of the migrants.

The party president said in a letter that she found the charges “disturbing”, especially when considering that “₹100 crore” was spent on US President Donald Trump’s India visit, and the ₹151 crore contributed by the Railways to the PM-Cares fund.

Gandhi’s gesture was lauded by journalists on social media.

Hours later, the pleas and the offer of a donation from the Congress party, seemed to have worked, as the central government decided that it would foot 85% of the bill. It has asked the states to put in the remaining 15%.

Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy tweeted the confirmation from the office of Railways Minister Piyush Goyal.

Wherever the money comes from, at the end of the day, it seems to have reduced the plight of the migrant workers to some degree. The same can’t be said about the petals.

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