New Delhi: The Indian Railways has issued a set of guidelines for Shramik Special trains being run to ferry the migrants stranded across the country, saying the trains will ply only if they have 90 per cent occupancy and the "states should collect the ticket fare", inviting fierce criticism for charging for their services.
A provision in the SOP, which drew a good deal of flak, said the "local state government shall handover the tickets for these passengers cleared by them and collect the ticket fare and hand over the total amount to Railways."
"If you are stuck abroad during this COVID crisis this government will fly you back for free but if you are a migrant worker stranded in another state be prepared to cough up the cost of travel (with social distancing cost added). Where did 'PM Cares' go? Like I said earlier you were better off getting stranded overseas & flown back home!," tweeted NC leader Omar Abdullah.
In the SOP, the railways said the responsibility for food, security, health scanning, providing tickets to the stranded will be with the state from which the train is originating. It has however taken the burden of providing one meal to passengers whose journey will be of 12 hours or more.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury hit out at the Union government for burdening the states and said the situation with migrant workers was a result of the Centre's abrupt announcement of a lockdown.
"It is very unfair that the entire responsibility has been shifted to the state governments. This problem was not caused by the states. In the Parliament, the government said it bore the entire cost of repatriating Indians stuck abroad. In the same manner the migrants should have been sent back.
"Anyway, thousands of crores have been directed to PM-CARES," Yechury told PTI.
The railways on Friday rolled out the special trains to ferry migrant workers, students and others stranded in various parts of the country since the nationwide lockdown began on March 25.
Normally, the national transporter said in the guidelines, the Shramik Special trains will be run for distances more than 500 km and will not stop at any station before the destination. Each train with full-length composition with social distancing (not counting the middle berths) can carry about 1,200 passengers.
"The originating state shall plan the group of travellers accordingly. The occupancy of train should not be less than 90 per cent. Railways shall print train tickets to the specified destination, as per number of passengers indicated by originating state and hand them over to the local state government authority.
"The local state government authority shall handover tickets to passengers cleared by them and collect the ticket fare and hand over the total amount to railways," the guidelines added.
The state government shall issue food packets and drinking water at the originating points, it said.
It will be mandatory for all passengers to wear face covers.
"The originating state will encourage all passengers to download and use Aarogya Setu App," it said.
On arrival at the destination, the passengers will be received by state government authorities, who would make all arrangements for their screening, quarantine, if necessary, and further travel.
The receiving state will make adequate security arrangements at the railway station.
"Railways reserves the right to discontinue Shramik Special train operations if safety, security and hygiene protocols are flouted at any stage," the guidelines issued to all zonal general managers said.
While the railways is yet to issue any clarification on the charges, officials said as the transporter, railways was charging the states for services rendered.
Railway officials said there have been no issues so far with states on payments while some states like Jharkhand have already paid in advance, others like Gujarat has arranged for an NGO to sponsor part of the services.
Criticising the decision to charge for the travels, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav said exploiting the poor in times of a disaster is the "job of money lenders, not the government".
"The news of the BJP government taking money from the poor, helpless labourers going back home by train is very shameful. It has become clear today that the BJP, which pardons billions to capitalists, is with the rich and against the poor. Exploiting during a disaster is the job of money lenders, not the government," he said in a tweet in Hindi.
Karnataka Congress president D K Shivakumar said his party was ready to provide aid to the state government for payment of train fare for migrants.
"Giving ?1 crore cheque to KSRTC from the KPCC for ensuring Free Transport to our working class & labour people who are suffering to reach home because of the rates being charged by the Karnataka Govt. Govt should let us know if they need more, the KPCC will fulfill that as well," he tweeted.