The Uttar Pradesh government Tuesday said the list of 1,000 buses offered by the Congress to ferry migrant workers contained registration numbers of autorickshaws and cars, triggering a protest by the opposition party at the state’s border.
The Congress rejected the UP government claim, challenging it to conduct a “physical verification” of the buses.
The state government said 297 of the buses on the list lacked either a fitness certificate or valid insurance papers.
As the war of words escalated, UP Congress Chief Ajay Kumar Lallu and other party workers reached the Agra border, where they argued with policemen and staged a dharna.
Lallu was seen being carried away from the protest site to a car, with four policemen holding his arms and legs. A UP Congress spokesperson said he was taken to a police station in Agra.
According to the Congress, most of its buses are massed at the Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh border, awaiting permission to cross over into the state’s Agra district.
In a tweet in the evening, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi urged the Yogi Adityanath government should at least let the 879 buses “found fit” by it to enter the state.
“UP government has crossed the limit,” she said, accusing it of creating hurdles in an effort to help migrant workers stranded due to the coronavirus lockdown.
She said if the Yogi Adityanath government wishes it can put “BJP banners” on the buses.
Former Congress MP Pramod Tiwari also threatened to sue the UP government for defamation.
Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad accused the Congress of running a “bus scam”.
“The Congress has got trapped in its own net of deceit,” he tweeted in Hindi.
The row erupted on May 16 when Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra offered to provide 1,000 buses for migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, stranded in other states because of the coronavirus lockdown.
The Congress initially claimed that the state’s BJP government was ignoring the offer with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath refusing even to give an appointment to a party delegation.
Even while accusing the Congress of playing politics over the plight of migrant workers, the UP government on Monday formally accepted the offer. It asked the Congress to submit a list of the buses and their drivers and conductors.
In an email received by Priyanka Gandhi’s private secretary at 11.40 pm Monday, the Uttar Pradesh government asked the opposition party to send the buses to Lucknow by 10 am on Tuesday.
The aide wrote back to the UP government, saying that sending empty buses to Lucknow was “inhuman” and the “product of an anti-poor mindset” when thousands of workers are gathered at UP’s borders.
UP’s Additional Chief Secretary (Home & Information) Awanish Awasthi then responded to the Congress letter, agreeing to take charge of the buses at the Delhi-UP border itself.
He suggested that 500 buses should be stationed at the Kaushambi and Sahibabad bus stands in Ghaziabad, just across the border from Delhi. The remaining 500 should be sent to Noida.
Awasthi said directions have been issued to the Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar district magistrates to make use of the buses immediately after checking the permits, fitness, insurance and driving licences of the crew.
But the row reignited hours later when the UP government said the Congress list of 1,000 buses contained registration number of other vehicles.
“In the list of buses provided by the Congress, there are motorcycles, three-wheelers, an ambulance and private cars,” said Mrityunjay Kumar, media advisor to the chief minister, listing out the registration numbers.
UP Congress spokesperson Ashok Singh challenged the claim.
“There are 1,000 buses. If the UP Government has any doubts about them, they can conduct a physical verification of the vehicles at the state’s border,” he said.
In another letter in the afternoon, Priyanka Gandhi’s private secretary said the buses cannot be brought to Noida and Ghaziabad as the government has not given permission for them to enter Uttar Pradesh from Rajasthan.
Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya compared the episode “scams” during the Congress terms at the centre.
“The ‘bus ghotaala’ (bus scam) now is the latest addition to the Bofors, 2G, Coalgate and Commonwealth Games,” he tweeted in Hindi.
“The Congress is making fun of labourers by providing details of autorickshaws and motorcycles in the name of buses. Misleading people by telling lies is in the DNA of the Congress party,” he said.
Another deputy chief minister, Dinesh Sharma, accused the Congress of using migrant workers as “pawns”.
He asked why the Congress couldn’t send the buses through the government in Rajasthan, where it is in power.
“The Congress is trying to malign the image of the UP government, and it must rectify its behavior,” he said.
In Delhi, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala accused the chief minister of being insensitive.
“Kindly put a stop on cheap politics and not be insensitive and inhumane towards the plight of migrants. Kindly allow buses to ply migrants home and help them instead of embroiling them in cheap and petty politics,” Surjewala told reporters through a video conference.
Another spokesperson Surpriya Shrinate alleged that regional transport officers (RTOs) are now threatening owners of the buses made available for the Congress exercise.
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