Scenes of migrant workers travelling to their native places on foot has gravely troubled the nation. Photographs abound on the internet that capture the extent of the distress that migrants are facing. There have been numerous accidents where migrants have lost their lives. There have also been occasions when reporters have stopped migrants on their way and asked them to pose properly so that they could capture a good photograph. And all of this despite the fact that Shramik Trains are running to facilitate the transport of migrants.
At the same time, politicians such as Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party have been busy politicising the entire matter and the former Congress president who happens to be the son of the current one stopped migrants travelling on the streets and decided to have a chat with them so that he could attack the government later. Under such circumstances, people in the railway Ministry are upset because states have been blocking requests for Shramik Trains which, in turn, is causing migrants a great deal of distress.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman during her press conference announcing the economic package had hinted towards the fact that states have not been asking for trains to help the migrants as they should have when she was asked about the migrant crisis. Attacking the Congress party, she had said, “Where they have their own state governments, let them ask for more trains, so that more migrants can be seated and sent home. Instead, when they (migrants) are walking home, they waste their time, sit beside them and chat with them. It would have been better if they had carried their luggage and children and walked beside them. I say this with great sadness. Why can’t they ask their state governments to ask for more trains?”
Sources within the Railway Ministry have told OpIndia that Shramik Trains require approvals from both, the state of origin as well as the destination states. For instance, a train from Punjab to Uttar Pradesh would require the approval of both the states. We were told that unfortunately, certain states are not giving their approval for trains carrying their own migrants. As a consequence, migrants have been forced to walk on roads or travel in unsafe vehicles such as trucks and violate all norms of social distancing.
Of all the states, only the Yogi Adityanath Government in Uttar Pradesh has given as many approvals as required, resulting in nearly 800 trains being arranged for the state. On the other hand, a state such as West Bengal that has a great number of its population working in other states has approved only 19 trains thus far. Odisha, meanwhile, has been forced to suspend trains to coastal areas due to Cyclone Amphan and no trains are currently running to Ganjam district as it has a significant population in Quarantine already.
Compared to Uttar Pradesh, other migrant heavy states have given approvals for very few Shramik Trains. Chhattisgarh has given approval for only 19 trains, Rajasthan for only 33 and Jharkhand for 72 Shramik Trains. West Bengal also delayed the permission for regular Shramik Trains. A noticeable pattern is that the opposition parties which have only been too eager to target the central government over the migrant crisis have not given approvals for Shramik Trains and thereby contributed to the crisis immensely themselves. If they had given permission for the trains, the crisis could have been solved a lot quicker.