Stranded Migrants from Bihar drill holes into repeated claims by ruling BJP leaders and the Centre that stranded migrant workers were not being charged fares in special ‘shramik’ trains.
TNW, Patna, May 5: Ramesh Mahto,Virender Kumar, Lakshaman Yadav, Kaleem Ansari and Vikas Kumar are migrant workers who arrived in Bihar by special trains on Tuesday. All of them share one thing in common — they have paid train fare to travel back home. This is contrary to repeated claims being made by the ruling BJP leaders that stranded migrant workers were not charged train fare to travel in special ‘shramik’ trains.
The Bihar government officially said last week (on the basis of calls received on the helpline) that there were over 28 lakh stranded migrant workers from the state across the country. Contesting these official claims, some experts estimate that the number would be between 35-40 lakh.
After Opposition hue and cry over the Central government forcing helpless stranded migrant workers to pay the train fare, chief minister Nitish Kumar was forced to issue a clarification in a video message on Monday that the state government would bear the train fares of migrant workers and students returning to the state.
“I have paid Rs 730 for a ticket to travel in a special train from Gujarat’s Ahmedabad to Bihar’s Muzaffarpur railway station. This is baseless propaganda that stranded migrant workers were allowed to travel free of cost in special trains,” Mahto, a resident of Vaishali district, said.
Mahto, who was working in a garment factory in Gujarat, said life had become difficult since factories had shut down soon after lockdown began on March 25, “but we managed to survive and finally reach our home state. Now I am relaxed. I will be at a quarantine centre in my village.
Kumar, who arrived by special train from Sabarmati, said they were made to pay Rs 715 for the train fare and Rs 15 for the bus fare there by the authorities. “There was no other way. The government has treated us differently. We are poor, what can we do except expressing our anger against the government,” Kumar, a resident of Samastipur district, who was working in a plastic pipe factory in Gujarat, said.
Both the workers complained that there was no arrangement of food in the special train from Sabarmati. Most of them were forced to starve for hours during the journey, and children and women faced a more difficult time due to this.
Mahto and Kumar are two among nearly 1,200 migrant workers who arrived in Muzaffarpur by the special train. All of them were screened by a medical team on arrival and were sent to their respective districts in sanitised buses.
Similarly, Yadav, who arrived on Tuesday at Barauni railway station in Begusarai district, from Ernakulam in Kerala, said he was made to pay Rs 1,040 as train fare. “All of us, around 1,200 migrant workers, had to purchase train ticket from own pockets to reach Bihar, said ”Yadav, a resident of Matihani block in Begusarai, who looked to have returned to his native place.
Ansari, another migrant worker who arrived at Danapur railway station in Patna from Kerala, said he too paid money for the train ticket. “Like others, I have also paid from my pocket for a train ticket, as our priority was to reach home.” Ansari, a resident of Arwal district, who was working as a mason in Kerala, said there was no use staying back there as there was no work during lockdown.
More than 1,100 migrant workers arrived at Danapur railway station from Jaipur in a special train on May 2. This was the first batch of returning workers in Bihar. All of them paid train fares.
More than 3,000 students who were stuck in Kota in Rajasthan, too, arrived in Bihar’s Gaya, Darbhanga, Barauni and Patna by special trains on Monday and Tuesday, and also paid for train tickets.
Rajesh Kumar, a Railway official from the East Central Railway zone, said that more special trains were expected to arrive with migrant workers.
Additional Chief Secretary Amir Subhani had said most of these migrant workers were stranded in Delhi, Surat, Mumbai, Kolkata, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Visakhapatnam and Bengaluru, among other places.
According to him, several stranded migrant workers had applied for the Rs 1,000 assistance announced by the state government.
According to government data, over 1.8 lakh migrant workers returned to Bihar after the lockdown began. Unofficial figures doing the rounds say more than three lakh workers had already returned to Bihar after March 22.
The state government has identified 3,217 clusters in 160 districts across the country where most of the migrant workers are stranded.
Till Saturday, Bihar had 529 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with four people dead. So far, the state has tested more than 26,000 samples and there are six COVID-19 testing facilities in the state.