Buckling under pressure from citizens and opposition parties, the ruling BJP government has allowed thousands of migrant workers to return to their native places across Karnataka from cities in state-run buses free till 7 May, an official said on Monday (4 May).
"Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa directed Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) to ferry migrant workers to their native place across the state from cities like Bengaluru free till Thursday (7 May)," the official told IANS.
The decision to extend the free bus ride by 2 days from Tuesday came a day after the opposition Congress on Sunday donated Rs 1 crore to the state-run KSRTC through cheque towards the cost of transporting the stranded migrant workers to their native place free as they were without a job and money.
"For the convenience of migrants keen to go back to their native place within the state from cities and towns, they can use the free bus service of the KSRTC, which has been extended to 7 May from 5 May," said the official.
With the Centre allowing the migrant workers to return to their native place within the state or other states from where they came to Karnataka for jobs, the state government has been arranging special buses across the state since Labour Day (May 1) and special trains to other states since Sunday.
As bus services in cities like Bengaluru and Mysuru remain suspended amid the extended lockdown, hundreds of migrants face hardship in reaching the outstation bus terminal in the city centre and the satellite town terminal on the city's southern outskirts towards Mysuru because of fleecing by auto and taxi drivers.
"An insensitive government allowed KSRTC to first charge the migrants double the fare as its buses have to return to depots empty after dropping them at their native place. Shock and anger of the migrants and criticism by citizens in the social media like Twitter forced the chief minister to ensure regular fare for the one-time journey and subsequently free after our party donated Rs 1 crore for ferrying them free," state Congress leader V S Ugrappa told IANS.
Declining to accept the Rs 1 crore cheque the Congress gave towards the bus fare of migrants, KSRTC advised the opposition party to donate the amount to the Chief Minister's Covid-19 Relief Fund, a corporation official said.
Refuting the opposition criticism that the state government failed to handle the migrants' return to their native place, especially from Bengaluru, the official said operational logistics, including mobilising drivers, conductors and maintenance staff at short notice took time.
"We had to also deploy doctors and nurses at the inter-state bus terminals to screen the migrants to ensure they don't have high body temperature and are free from the virus before allowing them to board the buses, in which about 30 of them were allowed in each vehicle for social distancing," said the official.
The corporation claimed it ferried about 30,000 migrants in 951 buses to their native places from Bengaluru and other cities across the state on Sunday.
"About 1,500 migrants left Bengaluru for their native place till afternoon on Monday. About 550 buses from the state capital and 400 buses from other cities have been arranged to transport the migrants to their home by night," asserted the official.
About 16,500 migrants were sent in 550 buses from Bengaluru on 2 May to their native place across the state.
Free food, drinking water and masks were provided to the migrants by the corporation and many non-government organisations (NGOs), including some sponsored by the Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S).
A JD-S spokesman told IANS that while migrant workers from other states were being sent in special trains after escorting them in special buses from their relief camps, local migrants were forced to hire autos and tempos to reach the bus terminal in the city, paying exorbitant charges as no local buses were provided to them.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)
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