Even before her offer to provide 1,000 buses to Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh was rejected, Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had ensured the safe return of over 44,000 migrant workers to their home state from different parts of the country, a party source said on Friday.
Stranded in different states, these migrants were helped by Priyanka get seats in Shramik Special trains, buses and other modes of transport and also ensured food and water in many cases.
This process had started much before her appeal to Yogi, they said.
A top Congress sources, associated with Priyanka Gandhi, said that the party General Secretary, who is also incharge for party affairs in eastern Uttar Pradesh, was helping out stuck migrants even before the Shramik trains were pressed into service from May 1 as well as the buses episode with the Uttar Pradesh government in mid-May.
The source said after the lockdown was extended for the first time for 19 days, Priyanka Gandhi took up the work of helping the migrants as visuals of people travelling on foot along with their children started surfacing on news channels and the social media.
“Due to her intervention, over 44,000 migrant workers were sent back through Shramik trains and buses arranged by different Congress state units to Uttar Pradesh,” the source said.
“And to ease the process, she also launched ‘UP Mitra’ helpline on May 5,” the source said, adding that over 5.5 lakh people registered for return while over five lakh requests were received from different district units of the state.
The list was then shared with different state units for making travel arrangements, the source said.
When asked if Priyanka Gandhi’s team paid for the Shramik trains, the source clarified that the Congress leader did not book the trains, but she kept on forwarding the requests that her office received from the migrant workers to the state units.
The state units then coordinated with the migrant workers and arranged for their return either by buses or trains and the amount was paid for by the Congress state units concerned, the source said.
Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi had on May 4 had said that the party will bear the cost of rail tickets of migrants.
“Till date, the Congress state units have roughly paid for fares of over 22 Shramik trains to Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Punjab governments, which were destined for Uttar Pradesh, as our workers were coordinating for the passengers lists,” the source pointed out.
Even many buses were arranged from Ghaziabad and Noida for different districts in UP.
“The office of Priyanka Gandhi used to share the requests for travel and ration arrangements for migrant workers stranded in Mumbai with us,” Suraj Singh Thakur, Vice President of Mumbai Youth Congress, told IANS.
Thakur said that the Congress state unit arranged for the travel of over 10,000-12,000 migrants from Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh by trains, small vehicles, or buses.
He also said that the migrants were also given water bottles and food for their journey.
Ashwini Kumar Sharma, Ludhiana Congress President, said: “Priyanka Gandhi’s office kept sharing lists of people stranded in Ludhiana and those who needed assistance. We even arranged ambulances and got admitted several people to hospitals.”
Sharma said that Congress workers in Amritsar and Chandigarh also got similar requests for the return of migrant workers to Uttar Pradesh, adding that Priyanka Gandhi personally intervened to arrange for return of migrant workers or ration or any other help.
Sharma said that after the message from Sonia Gandhi, the Punjab government bought the train tickets worth Rs 35 crore for the migrant workers staying in different parts of the state.
Deep Naik, Congress Vice President in Gujarat’s Surat unit, said that the helpline started by Priyanka Gandhi was of great help to connect with the people who wanted to return to their home states during the nationwide lockdown.
Naik said: “Priyanka Gandhi led from the front and thus we were able to reach out to the maximum stranded families, who were residing in Surat and wanted to go back.”
He said that more than seven Shramik trains from Gujarat for different parts of the country were arranged, adding that from Surat alone over 25,000 people were able to return to their native places.