New Delhi: Railway Board chairman V.K. Yadav Friday denied reports of Shramik trains “losing their way” and taking days to reach their destinations, and urged the media not to spread “fake news”.
Addressing a press conference, Yadav said the railways had arranged 3,840 Shramik trains since they were launched 1 May to carry migrant labourers home. Of this, he added, just 71, or 1.8 per cent, were rerouted between 20 and 24 May “due to high demand”.
“Between 20 and 24 May, 71 trains had to be ‘derouted’ because there was very high demand from states for Shramik trains, and the railways wanted to meet this demand,” Yadav said.
“There were reports of trains taking up to nine days to reach their station… I am compelled to call this fake news,” he added.
Only four of the 71 trains took more that 48 hours to reach their destination, and that too because of local factors, Yadav said. “The Shramik trains are running at a faster speed than that of the normal mail express.”
Yadav’s clarification followed multiple reports of train diversions and delays stalking Shramik operations. Reports about at least one such train went viral following a passenger’s claim that the driver had talked about having forgotten his way.
At the same press conference, Kuldeep Dhatwalia, the director general for the Press Information Bureau (PIB), cited a Supreme Court order to say that media should not publish news without verification from official sources.
On 31 March, the apex court had directed the media to publish the official government version about developments with respect to Covid-19, and “maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated.”
‘Investigating each death’
Speaking about the deaths of migrant labourers on trains or railway platforms, Yadav said each case is being investigated individually, adding that he is not in a position to disclose the exact number of deaths since they are still being investigated.
According to reports, over a dozen passengers had died on Shramik trains or platforms until Friday.
Responding to the reports, the Ministry of Railways Friday appealed to people not to travel in trains if they are suffering from any health conditions or are vulnerable in any way.
Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal tweeted, “I appeal to people suffering from serious ailments, pregnant women & those above 65 years & below 10 years of age to travel only when necessary in Shramik Trains. I appeal to people suffering from serious ailments, pregnant women & those above 65 years & below 10 years of age to travel only when necessary in Shramik Trains.”
Yadav said while the railways understands the desperation of ailing migrant workers to go home, “they should avoid the travel if they are seriously ill”.
He also dismissed reports of food and water shortages on trains, arguing that it is hard to believe that “if 1,500 passengers are travelling on a train, and one of them dies due to some reason, the death can be attributed to hunger and food shortages”.
After almost a month of running Shramik trains, which were started by the railways on 1 May, Yadav said demand from originating states is beginning to decrease.
“Yesterday (Thursday), the railways ran 137 Shramik trains, the day before, this number was 172,” he said. “Before that, until last week, we were running up to 250 trains a day on average.”
“We have been consulting state governments… As of 24 May, there was a demand of 923 trains; as on 28 May, the requirement is 449,” Yadav added. However, he said, Shramik trains will continue to run until the last stranded migrant is taken home.
‘No migrant is paying’
Yadav also sought to once again address the controversy around the payment of Shramik fares, saying no migrant is being made to pay for their tickets.
Of the total cost involved in running a Shramik train, he said, 85 per cent is being borne by the railways, while the states are paying 15 per cent in the form of ticket fares. Having said this, he argued that the decision to not run migrant trains free of cost was deliberate.
“Even now, we have cases wherein states have made demands for trains, and yet the trains have had to go empty to a large extent… If there was no cost for running these trains, it would not have been possible for the railways to handle the demands.”
Earlier this week, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal had said that several trains requested by the Maharashtra government had to return empty since the government did not arrange for passengers to come to the station.
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