Migrants wanting to return home fleeced by Centre and states

Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka shown to charge exoribitant fares for train and bus tickets

FaresImage Courtesy:bbc.com

It’s been 40 days to the coronavirus induced lockdown but the woes of migrant workers and their desperate attempts to return home, have not ended. In Bhopal, traffic cops manning the Indore-Ujjain highway at Panth Piplani last week were in for the shock of their lives when they spotted 14 labourers being carried inside a concrete mixture making machine to their native place in Lucknow from Pune in Maharashtra, reported the Deccan Chronicle.

“The movement of the vehicle carrying the machine sparked suspicion among us since no construction work was going on in any part of the country due to the nationwide lockdown. We heard feeble noises coming from the container when we went closer to it. Later, we found 14 labourers inside it”, one of the traffic policemen who rescued the labourers said.

Not just this, three migrants of a 12-member group who had begun their journey home to Mohanpura in Ujjain from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, were run over by a speeding truck while they were sleeping on the roadside due to being tired after they were dropped at the Madhya Pradesh border by a bus arranged by the Rajasthan government.

More than a month later, the government made arrangements for ‘Shramik Special’ trains and buses for migrants to help them return to their homes after an outcry was raised seeing their plight, death and ill-treatment in their last ditch attempts to get home.

However, even that was fraught with apathy and inefficiency when news of the government charging now out-of-work migrants to cough up exorbitant amounts of money for conjuring Covid-19 medical certificates and for their travel back home.

Media reports cited that private hospitals were charging anything between Rs. 250 to Rs. 500 to issue medical certificates to kick-start their journey back home. In Mumbai, the application forms distributed by the police, need migrant workers to fill up details like their name, village and how they plan to reach their villages. A medical certificate, confirming that the person is not suffering from any influenza-type disease, is also to be submitted along with the form.

Stranded at his work unit in Saki Naka, Ajay Tivari, a native of Madhya Pradesh, said a doctor in his area had demanded Rs 400 to issue a fitness certificate. “We are a group of eight people and were told to pay Rs 400 per person. Since we are out of work for nearly two months, we did not have so much money on us. We pleaded with the doctor, who finally agreed to reduce the amount to Rs 350,” he said.

Another migrant worker from Jharkhand who was stranded in Dharavi, a containment zone in Mumbai, recounted how he, along with 24 others contributed around Rs. 9,000 per person to get the travel forms filled, but couldn’t secure the medical certificates in time due to there being only one private doctor in the area. The first private bus that left from Mumbai for Jalor in Rajasthan on Sunday evening cost the travellers Rs. 1 lakh. The 25 migrants on board paid Rs. 4,000 each against the rate of Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 1,500 each to cover a distance of 800 kms.

Post this news, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said that this decision of the government charging the migrant workers for tickets was filled with apathy. Rahul Gandhi too questioned why the government was charging this fare if the Railway Ministry itself had donated Rs. 151 crore to the PM Cares Fund.

Sonia Gandhi said that seeing the current situation the Congress had taken a decision that all its state units would bear the cost for the rail travel of every needy worker and migrant labourer and take necessary steps in this regard.

After this, the Central government, like in a bid to undo its folly, announced that it would bear 85 percent of the travel costs for the migrants’ return and asked states to bear the rest of the 15 percent.

Amid all this confusion and a battered economy, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that a total of Rs. 810.23 crore was allocated for the purchase of two new aircraft to ferry PM Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu across the world. The government has allocated Rs 5,552.08 crore for these aircraft so far, which essentially means it will have to earmark over Rs 2,900 crore more in the years to come.

Another act of the Union government depicted its utter indifference towards the migrants and the raging shortage of proper care facilities for patients and safety equipment for doctors. The government spend money on Armed Forces helicopters showering petals on hospitals and Air Force Jets conducting fly pasts to salute healthcare workers. While gestures like these are welcome, conservative estimates show that the drill would have cost the Centre around Rs. 50 crore. Sources in the defence establishment told Deccan Chronicle that the operating cost to fly the bigger fighter planes for an hour is between Rs 6.5 and Rs 7 crore. ‘Operating costs’ means fuel, maintenance, man hours and all other expenditure, they said. The cost of flying smaller aircraft like trainers and helicopters is around Rs 2 lakh per hour per aircraft.

Also, the IAF’s three Su-30 aircrafts that flew over Marine Drive in Mumbai cost anywhere between Rs. 45 and Rs. 50 lakh sources said.

The real question that arises is this. Why is the government, even at such a time spending preposterous amounts of money just to put up a show about its efforts to effectively fight the coronavirus when doctors have been crying hoarse about the lack of essential safety equipment, setting the price for a Covid-19 test at a private lab at Rs. 4,500 for average citizens, thus fleecing them, turning a deaf ear to the pleas of migrants on whose shoulders the economy stands on, turning a blind eye to the communal hatred that is being stoked in the light of the pandemic, charging money from broke workers for their return home when all this money could have been used to better India’s position in fighting the pandemic?

(Sources – The Indian Express, Scroll.in, Asian Age, The Times of India, Business Today, Deccan Chronicle, Hindustan Times)


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