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War of words over rail ticket fares rages on

“Had the railways printed tickets that said they were free of cost, no one would have demanded fares from the stranded people. Whoever received the money from them. The migrant workers will be reimbursed,” said a state government official here.

Manas R Bannerjee | Siliguri |

A war of words among political party leaders, centering the controversy over train fares paid by migrant workers as well as other stranded people, including patients, and their family members, rages on, while there seems to be no solution in sight for such people, who are allegedly forced to pay money to ‘organisers’ who manages tickets before boarding trains.

The war of words began after a Special Shramik train from Bangalore arrived in New Jalpaiguri station on Thursday night. After talking to migrant workers, who came by the train on Thursday, state tourism minister Gautam Deb raised the issue and claimed yesterday that migrant workers had to pay for the railway tickets before boarding the train in Bangalore, despite the central government’s 85 percent contribution to the fares.

Mr Deb also claimed that the railways took Rs 80 more than the normal rates for the sleeper class coaches from Bangalore to NJP. “Had the railways printed tickets that said they were free of cost, no one would have demanded fares from the stranded people. Whoever received the money from them. The migrant workers will be reimbursed,” said a state government official here.

“Karnataka police and other officials had made all arrangements for us, including health screening, by issuing a token on Monday night. We assembled in a school ground on Tuesday, where another token of Rs 920 was issued. We got the token by paying Rs 920 each, though police had claimed Rs 1200 from each person on Monday night. They took us to the Bangalore railway station in several vehicles and handed over a ticket of Rs 780 for boarding the train,” said Toton Saha, who arrived here on Thursday night, and who is still in a state government quarantine centre in Jalpaiguri district.

That train was scheduled to terminate in Purulia, but finally arrived at NJP in Siliguri, carrying many people, including migrant workers, students, and patients and their relatives. Significantly, Darjeeling MP Raju Bista countered tourism minister Mr Deb yesterday and claimed: “The tourism minister’s claims are blatantly untrue. TMC is indulging in politics of lies, fabrication and deceit. Simple fact is that the West Bengal government has refused to pay their share of the train fare, and instead they have charged the fares from the stranded people directly.”

“I encourage Gautam Deb to file an RTI inquiry into who is responsible for charging fares from our beleaguered people, when they are struggling to make ends meet in distant cities,” Mr Bista added. Significantly, the West Bengal government has written a letter to the Chairman of the Railway Board, informing him that the state would bear the train fares for the migrants.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has tweeted the matter and attached a copy of the letter sent to the Railways, state home secretary Alapan Bandyopadhayasaid. Mr Bandyopadhaya also said that the state will bring back all stranded people, including migrant workers, patients, students and their relatives by train free of cost from 16 states.

“With a heavy heart today, I wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to request his immediate intervention to save the people from West Bengal stranded across various parts of the country, and who for all intent and purpose been abandoned by the West Bengal government,” Mr Bista said, adding, “Yesterday, it came to my notice that the WB Govt had refused to pay their share of the 15 percent fare of Shramik Special trains, and those slated to be evacuated are expected to pay the state government’s share of fare. Given this, I have requested the Prime Minister to allow booking for Shramik Special Trains headed to West Bengal through the IRCTC website directly.”

Notably, chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, in a letter to the Chairman of the Railway Board, Vinod Kr Yadav, had said: “… entire cost of movement by special train to West Bengal of migrants of the state from different parts of the country shall be borne by the government of West Bengal.”