Over 1,000 Indians were rescued from coronavirus-hit countries by Air India and they did not have to shell out any money for the service.
However, unlike migrant workers who at times have to pay an extra fare for their journeys back home, stranded Indians were flown back in special evacuation flights operated by Air India and paid for by the government.
When the lockdown was announced on March 25, thousands of migrant workers and daily wage earners were seen walking and cycling for hundreds of kilometers to go back to their villages, with access to no food or money. Many lost their lives during the daunting journeys. And the migrant exodus in India still continues.
Kerala government asked the poor laborers to pay the base fare of Rs 875 for being ferried to Jharkhand, special trains that left Maharashtra for different states also charged migrant workers the basic fare.
“Looks like some kind of a joke has happened with us. We wanted to come back to our villages because we have no income or money to make ends meet and now finally the government has thought about us, it is charging money from us. If we had money, what was the need for us to go back?” said a migrant worker from Telangana.
The Indian Railways, for example, will not only collect the full ticket price on its special worker’s trains but also levy a surcharge of Rs 50. On buses being run by the Karnataka government, the price is nearly four times as much as hiring an air-conditioned taxi, the Indian Express reported.
If the Union government itself suffers from a debilitating shortage of funds, it is inexplicable why money is being spent on gestures such as armed Forces helicopters showering petals on hospitals and Air Force Jets conducting flypasts to salute healthcare workers. Gestures are welcome and perhaps necessary to keep up public morale in a time of emergency. But they should not replace real action.
On Sunday, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav hit out at the central and state governments for charging money to bring back poor migrant workers in special trains.