The Bharatiya Janata Party on Wednesday claimed that none of the deaths on “Shramik Special” trains had occurred due to hunger or starvation. The party, in a statement, also claimed that the operation of the trains was being politicised and termed it as “unprecedented”.

On May 1, the Centre started running “Shramik Special” trains to help migrant workers reach home during the coronavirus pandemic. Between May 9 and May 27, nearly 80 migrant workers died of starvation or heat sickness while travelling on these trains, according to data from the Railway Protection Force. The BJP’s statement came after Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi hit out at the Centre, saying that till now 81 deaths of migrant workers had been reported in relation to the special trains.

“None of the deaths which have happened in Shramik trains have been caused by hunger or starvation as per postmortem reports,” the BJP’s statement read. “Natural deaths have occurred on trains in the past too, but the manner in which [the] unfortunate deaths of shramiks [labourers] have been politicised is unprecedented, without [critics] waiting to know about the exact cause of deaths.”

There have been several reports of migrant workers not being given food and water on long train journeys in the searing heat. Workers have complained about the squalid conditions of travel and inordinate delays in train schedules.

BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain listed details of postmortem reports to claim that the deceased had died from pre-existing conditions.

On May 27, bodies of Dashrath Prajapati and Ramratan Gaund were found when their train reached Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi city from Mumbai. He said that Prajapati had been suffering from chronic kidney disease and Gaund’s health had been deteriorating.

On the same day the two men travelling from Mumbai were found dead, a video of a child trying to wake up his dead mother at the Muzaffarpur railway station in Bihar surfaced on social media. She had reportedly died of extreme heat, hunger and dehydration. However, Hussain said that Khatoon suffered from a pre-existing mental ailment.

The BJP leader said that the special trains were being supplied with multiple meals and adequate drinking water. He said that the Indian Railways had provided over 1.5 crore meals and two crore packaged water bottles for free. “We are not here to do petty politics,” Hussain said. “[The] government believes in tackling the problems head on and addressing it.”

The Opposition Congress demanded Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal’s resignation, saying that the Centre was distorting facts on payments of these train services, PTI reported. The Congress alleged that the central government had not spent any money on running special trains for migrant workers.

However, Hussain claimed that the government was not charging migrants and said the Indian Railways was bearing 85% of the travel cost and the rest 15% was the states’ contribution.

He also said that the Indian Railways operated over 4,197 special trains till June 3 and more than 58 lakh passengers returned to their home states since May 1.

On Monday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed that a few migrant labourers lost patience and started walking during the coronavirus lockdown even though the Centre had provided adequate facilities for them to return home.

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