New Delhi: The New Delhi railway station, which went silent due to the Covid-19 lockdown, was bustling with passengers Tuesday with the first batch leaving for their home states via special trains arranged by the Railways.
Queues of passengers extended to at least 1.5 km from outside the station’s gate as they were asked to stand at a distance from each other. They were allowed to enter the platform an hour before the scheduled departure of their respective trains.
The first train left the station at 4 pm for Bilaspur in Chattisgarh, followed by another to Dibrugarh in Assam at 4.30 pm. Another train to Bengaluru is scheduled to depart at 9 pm.
Passengers had gathered outside the station by 2 pm as the home ministry had made it mandatory to arrive 90 minutes in advance for medical screening.
Passengers underwent thermal check-ups inside the station before entering the platform. Only those with confirmed e-tickets were allowed an entry.
To ensure social distancing, police divided the queues into three queues for the three trains.
“We have divided the queues. We are making announcements on loudspeakers to maintain social distancing. At least 50-60 people landed here without tickets but only those with confirmed e-tickets were being allowed,” said O.P. Lekhwal, ACP, Delhi Police.
Civil defence volunteers were also deployed to ensure that proper queues are maintained.
“We are ensuring that people don’t end up in the wrong queue. If people are moving into the wrong queue, we are directing them to (stand) in the correct queue. Announcements are also being made so people know which queue to get into,” said Gurpej Singh, a civil defence volunteer.
Northern Railways chief public relations officer Deepak Kumar told ThePrint trains were running in full capacity.
Steep prices, but tickets bought anyway
Several passengers, meanwhile, claimed they had to try for hours to book a ticket Monday.
“Five of my family members had to sit on different systems to try and get me a ticket. Still, I only managed to get a ticket at 7.45 pm on Monday even though we were trying from 4 pm,” said Poonam Ramdani, who had come to visit her mother in Delhi from Raipur on 15 March, but couldn’t go back due to the lockdown.
Although prices were steep, passengers didn’t mind paying it as they were too eager to go back home.
Choti Patle, who was taking a train to Bilaspur, said she had paid Rs 1,615 each for 4 tickets. “But I have to go back home. I have been here for over 2 months. I had come here to donate a kidney to my sister-in-law. Now I have to go back,” she said.
For some, even reaching the railway station was an expensive affair.
“I stay in Dwarka. I went to the police to help me come here. But they refused to help. Finally, we managed to get a taxi for Rs 2,200 to bring us here (at the station). Now, we don’t have any money for food during the journey,” said Mohan Lal, a carpenter.
Catering service is not available on the trains and passengers were asked to bring their own food, bed sheets and blankets for the journey.
On Tuesday, the Railways also made downloading of the Aarogya Setu app mandatory for all passengers travelling by these trains.
But several passengers from the economically weaker sections claimed they were unaware of such a rule.
“I don’t have a phone that supports the internet. I only have an e-ticket,” said labourer Kundan Paswan, a Bihar native.
Some passengers were, however, just happy to go back home as they’re out of work with no money.
“I was a travel agent but my industry has collapsed. I don’t have money to keep paying rent so I’m going back,” said Akash Jaiswal, who was travelling to Jhansi.
‘Ready for home-isolation’
According to the home ministry guidelines, the travelling passengers will have to adhere to health protocols as are prescribed by the destination state or union territory.
Passengers like Nazir Khan, a UPSC aspirant travelling to Jhansi, said he was ready for home-isolation.
While police and civil volunteers were trying hard to ensure people maintained queues and social distancing, some passengers claimed that they did not expect such a huge crowd outside the station.
“I wanted to go home because I was scared and I live alone here, but now seeing this huge crowd, I’m scared that I made the wrong decision,” said Aveeno, a student travelling to Bilaspur.