Patna: Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Left parties in the Opposition in Bihar on Monday launched a scathing attack on the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for forcing helpless stranded migrant workers to pay the train fare [as per the BJP-led Centre’s decision] to be able to return home and the state government’s refusal to bear the ticket cost.
However, after this attack from Opposition and sensing trouble ahead of the Bihar Assembly polls to be held later this year, Nitish Kumar was forced to issue a clarification in a video message that the state government will bear the train fare of migrant workers and students returning to the state.
The Bihar government has officially said that there are over 28 lakh stranded migrant workers from the state across the country. Two days after the first special train carrying stranded migrant workers arrived in Bihar on Saturday, another special train carrying students stuck in Kota reached the state on Monday. More such trains are likely to reach the state over the next 48 hours.
Contesting official claims of over 28 lakh stranded migrant workers, some experts say the number would be between 35 lakh to 40 lakh.
In a bid to embarrass Nitish Kumar, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav on Monday said that his party has offered the “incapable (asamarth)” Bihar government to pay fare of 50 trains to bring the stranded migrant workers back. He further said that once again, the “inhuman approach of both the NDA governments at the Centre and in the state was exposed” as the poor migrant workers who are suffering immensely during the unprecedented health crisis were being asked to pay money to return to their native villages. ”Is it not an irony that the cost of those airlifted was borne by the government and the same government is forcing the poor migrant workers to pay train fare despite knowing fully that they have been jobless since lockdown began in March? The Centre and state governments are anti-worker and anti-poor,” said Yadav.
As the state government had expressed its inability to bring the migrant labourers back citing lack of resources, Yadav said, ”Is this the real face of the double engine government that repeatedly claimed highest economic growth and development?” He also recalled that when his father and RJD Chief Lalu Prasad was Union Railway Minister in 2008 at the time of Kosi floods, people were rescued via trains without any charge.
Congress MLC and spokesperson Premchand Mishra said, “This is shameful that the government was charging train fare to the migrant workers and students stranded due to the lockdown. If the central government led by Narendra Modi can write off loans of more than Rs 68,000 crore offered to the rich businessmen including absconding Mehul Choksi and Vijay Mallya, why can't the same government help migrant workers to return free of cost by trains?”
Another senior Congress leader and MLA, Shakeel Ahmad Khan, said that neither the central government nor the state government are ready to help the stranded migrant workers. ”Forcing them to pay the train fare showed insensitive behaviour of the Modi-led government at the Centre,” he said.
Khan added, “What is pathetic is that mobile phones of most of the top officers of Bihar government who are appointed as the nodal officers for different states to bring back stranded migrant workers are either switched off or they are not receiving any calls from migrant workers asking for help.”
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Arun Kumar Mishra echoed the demand of cost-free return from the workers and said, “These are crisis-struck people; it is the government’s duty and responsibility to help them, feed them and ensure their return. But unfortunately, the government is charging them instead.” CPI (Marxist-Leninist) leader Dhirendra Jha iterated this stance.
Meanwhile, Rajesh Kumar, a railway official from the East Central Railway zone said that over half a dozen special trains are expected to arrive with migrant workers, who have been stranded across the country after the lockdown from March 25.
Last week, under pressure from Opposition, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, who is a senior BJP leader, had demanded that the Centre run special trains to bring back the migrant workers, citing a lack of resources with the state government. He also expressed the state government's inability to bring back stranded migrant workers by buses, adding that the long journey would neither be safe nor comfortable for them.
Soon after his demand, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs announced that trains would now ferry stranded migrant workers back home.
Migrant workers from Bihar are stranded in different states due to the sudden lockdown announced on March 24, to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. The official figures released suggest that most of these migrant workers remain stranded in Delhi, Surat, Mumbai, Kolkata, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Visakhapatnam and Bengaluru, among other places.
Last Monday, during a video conference, Kumar had made it clear to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the Bihar government would strictly adhere to the Centre's lockdown guidelines. Hence, it was not possible to bring back stranded migrant workers and students till fresh directives were issued. Pressure had been mounting on Nitish Kumar to bring back the stranded migrant workers since last month. Interestingly, the state government has no official data on how many workers from Bihar are employed outside the state. 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 517 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. Bihar’s five districts are in the Red zone and 33 districts are in the Orange zone, while there is no green zone.
Also read: Maharashtra: Hurdles Outweigh Relief for Stranded Migrants Looking to Return Home