There has been a war of words between the BJP & the Congress about the fare of the special trains being run to carry stranded migrants. But is there a fare for these trains? If yes, who is footing the bill? Here are the details.
A war of words broke out between major political parties about the train fare of migrants. While the Congress party announced that it would bear the cost of train travel of migrants, the BJP hit back in an official statement and accused the Congress of spreading falsehoods. The BJP in its statement said that the Railways is bearing 85% of the total cost while the state governments are asked to bear the remaining 15%. Between the political war of words, who is actually paying for the train fare of the migrants?
MHA issues guidelines for travel of migrants
After repeated pleas from various quarters, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued orders dated 29 April 2020, that allowed for travel of stranded migrants. The order also specified that respective state governments talk to each other and enable travel of these stranded migrants by road and in buses. After the request of states, the MHA further allowed running special trains for their travel. The MHA also said that the Ministry of Railways will issue detailed guidelines for sale of tickets, social distancing and other safety measures.
The MHA further modified its order on 03 May 2020, clarifying that the earlier orders were meant for travel of only those who moved from their native places just before lockdown and could not return.
Did the Ministry of Railways fix a fare for these special trains?
The Ministry of Railways (MoR) issued multiple circulars to enable the travel of migrants. Here is a chronology of these circulars.
01 May 2020: The MoR issued a circular specifying the fare for these special trains. As per this circular, the fare for these special trains would be fare for sleeper class express trains plus a superfast charge of Rs. 30 and an additional charge of Rs. 20. In other words, the total fare would be express train sleeper fare plus Rs. 50.
02 May 2020: The MoR issued detailed guidelines regarding these shramik special trains. Among other things, the guidelines talk about capacity, social distancing, safety precautions etc. In these guidelines, it is made clear that the state government shall handover the tickets to the passengers, collect the ticket fare and handover the total amount to railways.
On the same day, the MoR tweeted clarifying that only special trains are being run on the request of state governments and that no other train is being run. The tweet also asks people not to come to stations since no tickets are being sold at any station. What it meant is that there are no retail ticket sales and the tickets for identified migrants would be given to the relevant state governments only.
The Railways have also started issuing circulars with details of these special trains. The circular includes tentative schedule, composition etc. The circular issued for the Lingampalli (Hyderabad) – Hatia (Jharkhand) can be seen here.
Who is paying this fare?
From the guidelines and other circulars issued by the MoR, it is clear that there is no individual sale of tickets. Only those authorized by the respective state governments will be allowed to travel on these special trains. The tickets for all these migrants will be issued directly to the state governments who in turn have to pay the total amount to railways. While this process is clear, there is still no clarity on who is footing this bill.
Certain reports in the media indicate that migrants have been charged fare in certain places by the state governments. Some of these press reports can be read here and here. In some states, the respective state governments have agreed to foot the bill. The Telangana Chief Minister KCR announced that his government is footing the bill towards the train fare.
What about the 85% subsidy that the BJP is talking about?
The BJP in its official party statement as well multiple spokespersons of the BJP made a mention of the 85% cost being borne by the Railways. It has to be noted that the government has however not issued any official statement on this figure except for a mention of this by the representative of the Health Ministry in the standard press briefing on 04 May 2020.
BJP general secretary B L Santhosh broke this figure down in a tweet and said that the Railways already subsidizes 57% of the passenger fare. He said that the additional 28% is because of the unique circumstances of these special trains (social distancing, empty return journey). There is no further clarification on these figures by anybody within the government.
Does the Railways subsidize 57% of the passenger fare?
It is a known fact that the passenger business of the railways is loss making since the railways subsidizes the passenger fare to a certain extent. However, this amount is not 57% as tweeted by the BJP general secretary, but 43%. In fact, on all the e-tickets issued on the IRCTC website, the statement about this subsidy is prominently written. The statement reads, ‘Are you aware that 43% of your fare is borne by the common citizens of the country?’
In fact, this message on the e-ticket became controversial when an army personnel took offence to this message and tweeted the same to the then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. She then explained that the subsidy message is being printed for all railway passengers and not confined to defence personnel.
The 43% subsidy is true and, it means that 43% if the cost incurred on passenger operationsit is borne by railways and not collected from passengers. The fare being paid by passengers is after this subsidy of 43%. However, this is not specific to the shramik special trains and is extended by railways even during normal times. Furthermore, there is no information available to conclude that the overall subsidy is 85% in the case of shramik trains.
To summarize, here is what can be concluded from available information from official government sources.
Is there a fare for the shramik special trains being used to carry stranded migrants?
Yes, the fare for these trains is express train sleeper fare plus Rs. 50.
Who is paying this fare?
In some states, there are reports of migrants being asked to pay this amount while in others, the respective state governments are footing this bill.
What about the Central Government subsidy of 85%?
The railways subsidizes the passenger fare and bears 43% of the cost incurred on passenger operations. However, this is true even during normal times and hence not a special subsidy extended for these shramik trains. Furthermore, there is no further information available to arrive at the figure of 85%.
Featured Image: Who is paying the Train fare of Migrants