New Delhi: The Congress on Monday said its state units will bear the cost of rail travel of needy migrant workers and labourers stranded at their workplaces due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown and seeking to return home.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a statement announced the party's decision and said this would be the Congress' humble contribution in standing shoulder to shoulder with these workers, who are the backbone of the country's economy.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also said in a tweet in Hindi, "On the one hand, the Railways is charging ticket fares from labourers stranded in other states, while on the other hand, the Railway Ministry is donating Rs 151 crore to the PM-Cares Fund. Just resolve this puzzle."
Sonia Gandhi also accused the central government and the Railways of completely ignoring the demands made by the Congress for ensuring the safe and free travel of migrant workers and labourers to their homes.
"There needs to be provisions for the safe and free rail travel of migrant workers and labourers to their home-towns. However, despite our repeated demands, the central government and the Rail Ministry have chosen to completely ignore the same.
"The Indian National Congress has, therefore, taken a decision that every Pradesh Congress Committee shall bear the cost for the rail travel of every needy worker and migrant labourer and shall take necessary steps in this regard," she said in a statement.
Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel tweeted, "As directed by Congress President, in my capacity as Treasurer (AICC) I request Pradesh Congress Committees to mobilise all possible local resources to help migrants purchase tickets to get back home.
"Let us make this into a people's movement, please contact AICC if you require assistance."
Sonia Gandhi noted that lakhs of migrants continue to walk hundreds of kilometres to reach back their homes without food, water, medicines and cash.
She criticised the central government for not recognising its responsibility and said if it can bring back free of cost citizens stranded abroad by air, why can't the same responsibility be shown towards the poor migrants who are considered the ambassadors of the nation's growth.
"But what is the responsibility of our government? Even today, lakhs of workers and migrant labourers are languishing in different parts of the country and wish to return to their homes and families but there is neither adequate money nor provision for free transport.
"What is particularly disturbing is that the central government and the Rail Ministry are charging them for train tickets in this hour of crisis," she said.
"When the government can spend nearly Rs 100 crore on transport and food for just one public programme in Gujarat, when the Rail Ministry has the largesse to donate Rs 151 Crores to the PM's Corona fund, then why can't these essential members of our nation's fabric be given a fraction of the same courtesy, especially free rail travel, at this hour of acute distress?," the Congress president asked.
She said the Congress has been raising this issue from the outset of the lockdown, but the central government has chosen to ignore it.
Sonia Gandhi said workers and labourers form the backbone of India's economy and their hard work and sacrifice are the foundation of the nation.
The Congress chief said this is the first time post-partition of 1947 that India witnessed a tragedy with such a massive human cost as thousands of migrant workers and labourers were forced to walk home several hundred kilometres on foot without food, medicines, money, transportation, without anything except for the desire to return to their families and loved ones.
The very thought of their plight is enough to break our hearts as there was also the outpouring of support from fellow Indians for their inspiring resolve, she said.