The bitter war of words between the Congress party and Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government over 1,000 buses the former promised to arrange for migrant labourers has snowballed into a big controversy with both accusing each other of playing politics and questioning the intent.
On May 16, Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi wrote to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, requesting him to allow the grand old party to run 1,000 buses to ferry migrant workers back to their home state. The request came after several road mishaps led to many migrant labourers losing their lives.
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On May 16 alone, in two separate accidents -- one in UP's Auraiya, another in Madhya Pradesh -- at least 32 migrant labourers were killed and scores of others had sustained injuries.
Taking to Twitter, Priyanka shared her letter, saying it was not the time to leave migrant labourers alone on the road. "I hope UP government will approve the request," she said.
On May 17, Priyanka shared a video of migrant labourers trudging on roads with their children and meagre belongings. "There are a lot of labourers at the UP border. They are walking in the sun. They are being made to stand for hours. They didn't have any work for the past 50 days," Priyanka wrote, once again requesting the UP government to allow her party to run 1,000 buses.
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In another video shared on Twitter, Priyanka said buses arranged by Congress party were waiting for approval from Uttar Pradesh chief minister.
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On Monday, once again, a large number of migrant labourers gathered at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan and in Ghaziabad to register themselves for buses. The Congress General Secretary once again trained guns on Adityanath, saying the UP government failed to make arrangements properly. She also shared a video showing thousands of migrant labourers standing in the sun and struggling to get themselves registered.
The same afternoon, Yogi Adityanath hit back at Congress and blamed its leadership for the Auirayya accident.
Adityanath said: “In the unfortunate accident that took place in Auraiya, the Congress leadership should understand that one truck involved was from Rajasthan, while the other was coming from Punjab."
But hours later, the Uttar Pradesh government accepted Priyanka Gandhi's offer to run the buses. It asked the Congress to submit a list of the buses, and its drivers and conductors.
In an email received by Priyanka Gandhi’s private secretary at 11.40 pm Monday, the Uttar Pradesh government asked the opposition party to send the buses to Lucknow by 10 am on Tuesday, according to the Congress.
The aide wrote back to the UP government saying that sending empty buses to Lucknow was “inhuman” and the “product of an anti-poor mindset” when thousands of workers are gathered at UP’s borders.
"This demand of your government seems politically motivated. It does not appear that your government wants to help our labourer brothers and sisters who are facing a disaster," the letter in Hindi said.
On Tuesday, UP's Additional Chief Secretary (Home & Information) Awanish Awasthi responded to the Congress letter, agreeing to take charge of the buses at the border itself.
"As per your letter dated May 19, you have expressed your inability to provide buses in Lucknow and want to provide them in Ghaziabad and Noida," he wrote.
He asked 500 of the buses to be stationed at Kaushambi and Sahibabad bus stands, where the Ghaziabad district magistrate will take charge of them at noon.
He said the other 500 buses should be parked at the ground near the Expo Mart in Gautam Buddh Nagar and handed over to the district magistrate there.
Awasthi said directions have been issued to the district magistrates to make use of the buses immediately after checking the permits, fitness, insurance and driving licences of the crew.
Reacting to Yogi government's time-bound demand, Congress said that it needed more time to arrange for buses. Sandeep Singh, personal secretary to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, sent another letter to Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Avanish Awasthi, saying that it would be possible for the party to get the buses by 5 p.m.
Later, the state government said the list of 1,000 buses contained registration number of other vehicles, leading to a fresh stand-off.
"In the list of buses provided by the Congress, there are motorcycles, three-wheelers, an ambulance and private cars, Mrityunjay Kumar, media advisor to the chief minister, said.
He listed out the registration numbers of an ambulance, a car and four three-wheelers.
He said the details were retrieved through mParivahan, an app that allows people instant access to such information.
A UP Congress spokesperson challenged the claim.
"There are 1,000 buses. If the UP Government has any doubts about them, then they can conduct physical verification of the vehicles at the state's border," he said
Several Congress representatives have also shared videos of buses waiting for UP government's approval in Agra.