The Centre on Monday claimed that it never asked migrant labourers to pay for their travel back home in special trains amid a national lockdown to combat the coronavirus. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare made the claim after Congress President Sonia Gandhi lashed out at the government for making workers pay Rs 50 each, and said the party would instead pay for their tickets.
“We have given the permission to run special trains on states’ request,” Union Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said. “We are dividing the cost in 85-15% [railway:states share] as per the norms. We never asked states to charge money from the stranded labourers.” Agarwal made the remarks despite a government circular last week that asked states to collect the money and deposit it with the Centre.
The Union Ministry of Railways laid out a set of guidelines to operate the shramik special trains, including the sale of tickets, on May 2, a day after announcing the special trains. While it said that tickets will not be sold in stations, it also added that the states will collect fares from the passengers. “Thereafter, the local state government will hand over the tickets to the passengers and collect the ticket fare. The state government will hand over the total amount to Railways,” the ministry had said in its release.
Meanwhile, Agarwal added that 42,533 confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported in India so far. This includes 2,553 cases reported since Sunday. He said that 1,074 patients were discharged, the highest for a single day, and the total number of those cured now stands at 11,704, which is over 27% of the total number of cases.
Agarwal said that the doubling time of coronavirus cases in India has risen from 3.4 days before the nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25, to about 12 days by Monday.
The joint health secretary said that the country now has 426 testing laboratories, including 111 in the private sector. He claimed that there was no shortage of testing kits. Agarwal added that 57,474 tests were carried out on Sunday, and that India was continuously ramping up its testing capacity.
A Union Ministry of Home Affairs official said the ministry has handled over 12,000 complaints till May 3. She added that states have been asked to ensure that there are no problems in inter-state cargo movement. The official added that drivers can file complaints at the home ministry’s helpline, 1930, or National Highways Authority of India helpline 1033.