Monday, 30th October 2017

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Migrants left to walk as UP refuses permission to Congress to ferry them back in buses

We could have sent 92,000 people to their homes in the time you’re playing politics, Priyanka tells Adityanath

By Furquan Ameen in New Delhi
  • Published 21.05.20, 12:55 AM
  • Updated 21.05.20, 12:55 AM
  • 4 mins read
Migrants along with their children wait to board a bus in Noida on Tuesday to reach their home in Bihar. Telegraph file picture

In the past five days, even as thousands of migrants continued to trek home, Congress and Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath government have been squabbling over the Opposition party’s offer to use buses to ferry the workers back. Many more migrants remained stranded at state borders and temporary shelters in wait of transport.

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday appealed to the Uttar Pradesh government to stop playing politics over the buses. “If you want to put BJP flags and stickers on these buses, please do. If you want to say these buses were arranged by you, please do. But get the buses running. Because in the time we’re involved in this political tangle and you’re giving strange statements, we could’ve sent 92,000 people to their homes,” she said in a video message.

In a letter sent to UP additional chief secretary Awanish Kumar Awasthi on Tuesday, the Congress leader had told the administration that the buses would be available until 4pm on Wednesday at the state border. In the latest video, issued half an hour before the deadline, Priyanka appealed to chief minister Adityanath to give the party a permit to run the buses, saying if it wasn’t received, the buses would have to be sent back to their depots.

The migrant workers “aren’t just Indians but India’s spinal cord. The country runs on their blood and sweat. It is everyone’s responsibility. It is not the time for politics,” she said.

The political drama kicked off on the weekend when Priyaka wrote a letter to the UP chief minister offering 1,000 buses to take back migrants, 500 each from Ghaziabad and Noida border. All expenses, the letter stated, would be borne by the Congress party.

The same day, Uttar Pradesh Congress committee president Ajay Kumar Lallu, who had gone with the same letter, was denied a meeting with the chief minister. “It is ironic he has nothing to do with the pain and suffering of his people. He is only attending meetings sitting inside his home,” Lallu told reporters later.

Two days later, on the afternoon of May 18, Awasthi wrote back accepting the proposal to help the migrants but sought details of the buses, including those of the drivers and conductors. Priyanka’s secretary, Sandeep Singh, wrote back, attaching the list of vehicles with other details.

This is where events start getting complicated, both on paper and on the ground. Late on Monday night at 11pm, Awasthi sent an email to Priyanka seeking another set of details from the Congress party, fitness certificates of buses along with copies of driving licences of drivers and details of conductors. She was also instructed to hand over the buses in Lucknow by 10am the next day, May 19.

Within a few hours, at 2.10am Tuesday, Priyanka’s secretary Singh fired off a reply by email to Awasthi, refusing to send the buses to Lucknow. The email noted that the migrants were stranded at state borders, especially the Delhi-UP borders of Ghaziabad and Noida.

“At a time when thousands of them are walking on roads, & have gathered at the UP border for registration, sending 1,000 empty buses to Lucknow is not only a waste of time & resources but also inhumane," the email pointed out.

“This demand from your government seems to be politically influenced. It doesn’t look like your government is interested in helping our worker brothers and sisters hit by the pandemic,” her secretary, wrote.

Awasthi then accepted Singh’s proposal and directed Congress to send the buses to specific spots in Noida and Ghaziabad along with the documents which he demanded be given within an hour -- by 12pm Tuesday. Singh asked that the party be given until 5 pm on Tuesday to get all the buses to the spot.

At 3.45pm, another email was sent by Singh. He said that the buses were held up by the local administration at Uncha Nagla at the Rajasthan-UP border for three hours. The buses arranged by Congress had been travelling from Rajasthan and were trying to enter from Agra.

Then, in the evening at around 7pm, UP police detained Lallu and other Congress leaders present at the spot for staging a protest at the border demanding that the buses be allowed into the state.

Meanwhile, several BJP leaders had shared details of the list of buses given by the Congress. The BJP claimed that the Congress’s list included autos, ambulances and cars as well buses. Then came news that the Regional Transport Office Lucknow had determined that 879 out of the list of 1,049 vehicles shared by Congress were genuine buses. The rest were school buses, trucks and other commercial vehicles while 39 on the list were autos.

On Tuesday, Adityanath’s statement to a news channel brought him into the forefront of the political fight. “Maine pichle 3 dino se Congress se suchi mangi hai 1,000 buses ki. Aaj tak, mujhe suchi nahi mili hai. In 3 dino, me ek bhi bus ki suchi humare paas nahi aayi (For the past 3 days, I’ve asked Congress for the list of 1,000 buses. I haven’t received the list till today. In these three days we didn’t get details of even one bus),”

Adityanath told the channel. The Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister claimed that 297 of the vehicles had no fitness certificates.

“Not providing permission at borders, arresting leaders and doing petty politics, is it justified? It is unfortunate that the UP government is not allowing buses,” Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot told the media.. Now, with the deadline over and Adityanath government’s refusal to budge, Congress workers said that the buses have started leaving the UP border. The departure of the buses came as visuals of the exhausted, hungry migrants trudging home continued to be aired on television and shared on social media.