A controversy erupted on Monday after several opposition parties demanded that migrant workers should not be charged for the train tickets. While the Congress offered to pay for them, the BJP said the railways was already providing subsidised tickets bearing 85 percent of the travel costs.
The railways is yet to issue an official statement on the issue, which it, unofficially, said was a "political battle", but officials have been maintaining that it was charging only standard fare for these special trains from the state governments which is just 15 percent of the total cost incurred.
"The railways are running Shramik special trains keeping berths empty in each coach to maintain social distancing. The trains are returning empty from destinations under lock and key. Free food and bottled water is being given to migrants by the railways. We have run 34 such trains so far and we will continue to do so. Nowhere in our SOP, we have said that the fares be collected from travelling migrants," said a senior official of the railways.
Sources said states like Rajasthan, Telangana, where Shramik Special trains have originated, are paying for the migrants, while Jharkhand, which has only received such trains, has also paid for the travel of workers.
The Gujarat government has roped in an NGO to pay part of the travel cost, sources said, adding only the Maharashtra Government is charging the migrants for the trips.
Maharashtra state minister Nitin Raut has written a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray requesting him to bear the travel cost of migrants leaving the state.
On Sunday, Raut also wrote to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal requesting that the railways bear the cost of transportation of migrants from the state.
Meanwhile, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in a video statement on Monday said the state government has been giving money to railways for the transport of migrants.
"No migrant needs to pay for their travel," he said.
The railways is charging the fare of sleeper class tickets, plus a super-fast charge of Rs 30 and an additional charge of Rs 20 for the Shramik Special Trains. PTI ASG GJS PYK