The Congress on Monday said its state units will bear the cost of rail travel of needy home-bound migrants stranded at various places across the country due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
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 and have contributed to the nation's development.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also tweeted in Hindi, 'On 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.'
Terming the decision as historic, All India Congress Committee general secretary K C Venugopal and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the Congress state units will pay to the state chief secretaries the cost of train travel of the migrants and there will be no registration of workers as it will lead to further confusion.
The two leaders also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to shed his 'false prestige' and come forward in paying for travel of migrants seeking to return home.
They alleged that the Congress had taken the decision after many such workers and labourers did not have the money to pay for their tickets.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party accused the Congress of doing politics on the issue and claimed that the central and the state governments were bearing the cost of such train travels and no tickets were being charged from the migrants.
Venugopal, however, read out a circular stating state governments will pay the railways after collecting fares from migrant workers.
Surjewala also termed the central government's remark as negative and said it is not the time to play politics.
Sonia Gandhi accused the central government and the Indian 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 Railway Ministry have chosen to completely ignore the same.
'The Indian National Congress (INC) has, therefore, taken a decision that every Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) shall bear the cost for the rail travel of every needy worker and migrant labourer and take necessary steps in this regard,' she said in the statement.
She said this will be the Congress' humble contribution in service of the compatriots and to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with them.
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," he added.
Congress leader P Chidambaram said the party's decision puts the government to shame.
'The Congress president's decision to direct PCCs to bear the cost of rail transport for migrant workers is a historic decision. Puts the government of India to shame,' he said.
Sonia Gandhi 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 Railway Ministry are charging them for train tickets in this hour of crisis," she said.
The Congress president said workers and labourers form the backbone of India's economy and their hard work and sacrifice are the foundation of the nation.
She said this is the first time post-partition of 1947 that India witnessed a tragedy as thousands of migrants were forced to walk home.
Venugopal said he has already talked to state Congress chiefs and they are working out the modalities to ensure that migrants stranded reach home safely.
"We have already given direction to state PCCs to have coordination with state chief secretaries and the Railways to arrange for this fare.
"We are not going to have registration of migrant labours as it will add to the confusion," he said.
"We do not want to play politics in this. This is not the time to play politics. Those who are having no money are unable to travel in these trains, that is why our Karnataka PCC has paid for them. This is there in Kerala, where migrants do not have money to pay."
He said the state Pradesh Congress Committee in Karnataka has already made a beginning by depositing Rs 1 crore with the state chief secretary and would provide more in case required to ensure safe return of every migrant labour.
Surjewala also urged the government to wake up from its slumber and come to the aid of migrants.
"Even today we call upon the PM to leave the false prestige and utilise thousands of crores in COVID-19 PM Care Fund. We urge the Railways to withdraw its order issued earlier to ensure travel of every migrant labour and workers is made free," he added.