The Indian government has been criticised for charging stranded migrants, travelling by special trains to their home states, for the journey.
Millions of workers in the informal sector were rendered jobless after businesses across the country were closed following the implementation of a nationwide lockdown on March 25 in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The first batch of migrants left the southern city of Hyderabad on May 1 for the eastern state of Jharkhand after the government last week allowed special interstate trains and buses to transport those who wanted to return to their villages in other states.
But it emerged that migrants were charged as much as 800 Indian rupees ($10.58) for the journey. A daily wage worker earns between 200 rupees and 400 rupees ($2.6-$5.3) a day.
Migrants were also asked to pay a surcharge of 50 rupees ($0.66) as buses run by the Karnataka government charged hefty ticket prices, according to reports in local media.
Congress party offers to pay fares
On Monday, India’s main opposition party Congress announced it will pay the migrants’ fare after Indians took to social media criticising the government’s move, with hashtags #PMCaresFund and #Railways becoming top Twitter trends.
“Our workers and labourers are the ambassadors of our nation’s growth,” said Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a statement.
“When our government can recognise its responsibility by arranging free air travel for our citizens stranded abroad, when the government can spend nearly Rs 100 crores [approximately $13m] on transport and food etc for just one public programme in Gujarat, when the Rail Ministry has the largesse to donate Rs 151 crores [approximately $20m] 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 chief said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced criticism for creating a new coronavirus relief fund, PM CARES, when about $500m was lying unspent in an older fund.
Top businesses and celebrities have pledged millions of dollars in new donations.
Many social media users asked why the government did not use the fund to help the poor and migrant workers.
Migrant workers have been forced to walk hundreds of kilometres, many of them without food, to reach their homes.