States ruled by BJP-led National Democratic Alliance have taken back nearly four times as many migrant workers compared to states ruled by opposition parties, according to the data given by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today.
A total of 806 trains have so far been run by the Indian railways for migrant workers. Out of these, 386, or 48%, were for ordered by a single state, Uttar Pradesh.
In the second place was Bihar, which welcomed 204 trains, followed by Madhya Pradesh, which accepted 67 trains.
On average, each train transports around 1,200 migrant workers, and a total of close to 10 lakh migrant workers have already been moved by Indian Railways, Sitharaman said in response to a quesiton on whether the government is neglecting the plight of migrant workers.
The question was asked in the context of several migrant workers losing their lives on India’s highways while trying to get back to their native villages due to the loss of livelihood in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In all, the three NDA ruled states together accounted for almost 82% of all the migrant special trains run by Indian Railways so far.
In contrast, opposition-ruled states have accepted far fewer number of trains and returning migrants.
Jharkhand, ruled by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, was among the better performers with 44 trains delivering migrant workers to the state.
Rajasthan, ruled by the Congress party accepted just 18 trains, while Chhattisgarh, also ruled by the Congress, welcomed only seven trains.
West Bengal, ruled by Trinamool Congress, too has so far requested only seven trains to be run to carry its migrants back.
Sitharaman said the sight of migrants walking with their children and bags on highways ‘touches all our hearts’, but that the role of the central government is limited to arranging trains for these people.
Under the evacuation program, it is up to the state governments to inform Indian Railways that they want x number of trains to run from x station on x day. They also have to arrange quarantine facilities for these returning workers.
Sitharaman said Indian Railways has the capacity to run 300 such special trains every day.
“The state government has to accept and ask: I want this many number of trains…Within 3 to 5 hours, the trains are provided,” she said.
8 CRORE MIGRANT WORKERS
The 10 lakh migrants already transported by the Indian Railways forms only a tiny part of the overall migrant worker population of India.
According to Sitharaman, there are an estimated 8 crore (80 million) migrant workers in India.
She said the center has directed the states to provide 1 kilogram of pulses per month for each family of migrant laborer in their territory, as well as 5 kg of grains.
This will be done for the next two months to all migrant workers who are not currently covered by the public distribution system or rationing system, the finance minister said.
The total expenditure involved in providing the above will come to around Rs 3,500 cr, and will be reimbursed to the states by the center, she said.
The center has also nudged ‘supplier’ states — such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh — to expenditiously enroll returning migrant workers in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme — the world’s largest employment guarantee scheme that promises 100 days of work per year.
Meanwhile, Nirmala Sitharaman continued to maintain that workers are not being charged by Indian Railways for transportation back to their villages.
She said the state that is ordering the train to bring back its people from another state has to pay 15% of the total cost, while 85% is being picked up by Indian Railways.
“85% of the cost is borne by the center and the remaining 15% has to be spent by the state,” Sitharaman said.
However, in practice, Indian Railways has been reported to be collecting money from the state where the migrants are being transported from, and these states are in turn collecting the money from the workers themselves.