Thiruvananthapuram/Patna/Hyderabad: Several states on Wednesday opposed the Centre’s plan to send lakhs of stranded migrant workers back to their rural homes by bus, saying it was not practical, and demanded that special trains should be run for the purpose.
The central government had on Wednesday allowed the inter-state movement of stranded migrant workers 36 days after the lockdown was imposed, but at least seven states – Telangana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab and Bihar - contend that the number of people, distance and logistics rules out travelling in buses.
The issue also came up at a meeting of the Cabinet Secretary with state chief secretaries and the government said it would look into the issue.
Among the first to raise objection was the Kerala government, which renewed its demand for special non-stop trains to transport those who are keen to leave for their respective states.
"There were so many people who wish to leave for their respective states. The distance they have to traverse from the southern state is very long it would be tiresome journey to transport them by bus and there was a possibility of the virus spreading", Vijayan said, adding that there are 3.60 lakh workers in over 20,000 camps in the state.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said he has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying transferring thousands of people over such long distances in buses is impractical.
Punjab CM Amarinder Singh said Ludhiana alone has over seven lakh migrant labourers, with whole of Punjab having over a million of them. Although data was still being collated, he said approximately 70 per cent of the labourers in Punjab hailed from Bihar, adding that the movement of labourers in such large numbers was possible only through trains, with proper screening to be done at the time of departure.
The Telangana government also opposed the Centre’s plan as minister T Srinivas Yadav observed that it would take the 15 lakh migrants there about three to five days for workers to travel to states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh if they travel by buses.
It is not appropriate for the Centre to say that the state governments concerned have to transport the migrant workers in buses, an official release quoted him as saying.
Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi made an appeal to the effect in a video message claiming that depending on the road route could take months because of the limited availability and capacity of buses.
Modi said the number of those wanting to return is likely to be huge. "If we depend on buses, the process could take months to complete," he said.
"I would therefore urge the Centre to run special trains. These could be non-stop ones, with no halts between the points of departure and the destinations. Seating arrangements could be made for passengers in a way that social distancing is ensured. Food, water etc. could be made available on board," he added.
"These people are spread across the country. Their number is noticeably large in places like Delhi. We can opt for buses to bring people from places which are close to Bihar. But for far-off ones, the Centre should consider our request for special trains," said the senior BJP leader.
Tamil Nadu also informed the Centre that the plan was not feasible. It said there are around 4 lakh migrant workers and most of them are from Bihar and West Bengal. Maharashtra, which has been worst-hit by coronavirus, has made similar demands. Mumbai employs more migrant workers than any other city in the country.