New Delhi: The predicament of the Indian Railways, which is already facing a lot of flak over delay in running migrant trains with some even losing their way, went up manifold Wednesday after three passengers died on two of the Shramik special trains, leading to an outrage about the alleged ill-preparedness of the national carrier.
The railways, however, insisted the deaths on the trains were “coincidental” and all of them had histories of medical illnesses.
“The deaths are very unfortunate, but all the three people concerned were seriously ill,” said a senior official.
According to the railways, a Shramik train from Mumbai reached Manduadih, Varanasi, Wednesday with two dead passengers. While 30-year-old Dashrath Prajapati was physically challenged and was suffering from kidney disease, 63-year-old Ram Ratan Gaud “was fighting with many illnesses”.
Another passenger, Uresh Khatun, a resident of Katihar in Bihar, also died on a Shramik special train that was coming from Surat. She had a heart surgery on 22 March, and a pacemaker was installed, Railways said.
While the exact cause of the deaths remain unknown, they have occurred at a time when the Railways is scrambling to explain inordinate delays in running the migrant trains, rerouting of several trains from their usual path and shortage of food and water on board.
Lack of coordination
As railways came under criticism for diverting Shramik trains to circumvent route congestion, it Tuesday officially notified running of trains on diverted paths and called it route “rationalisation”.
According to officials, rationalisation of route refers to a process of a train reaching its destination through a route which it does not use under normal circumstances.
“A train can have multiple routes to reach from point A to point B… Under normal circumstances, it uses the shortest route, but if there is piling up of trains, etc. it can use an alternative route to reach the same destination,” another senior official said.
The official added this allows trains to not be stranded without food or water for several hours as the train can stop at stations en route and replenish its stocks.
According to the official, since most trains are converging in UP and Bihar —where the bulk of Shramik trains have arrived — there was massive congestion on the routes, which has now cleared due to rationalisation.
“Most of the destinations in UP are around Lucknow-Gorakhpur sector and in Bihar around Patna. Of 565 trains running since yesterday (Tuesday), 266 were going to Bihar and 172 to Uttar Pradesh,” the railways ministry said in a statement issued last week.
However, railway officials in different zones told ThePrint the delays and lack of coordination in running Shramik trains is a result of the high number of trains being run without sufficient preparedness.
On 1 May, when the railways announced the first Shramik train, officials had said around 500 such trains will be run to take stranded people home, and the task of sending all migrants home could be completed in 15 days.
Since then, however, the railways has been constantly increasing the number of Shramik trains due to the unending migrant exodus from cities.
Railway Board Chairman V.K. Yadav last Saturday said the railways has planned 2,600 Shramik specials for the next 10 days, and will continue them for as long as migrants need them.
Trains not spaced out
The second official said the problem is the specials are not spaced out, and there is a need for greater coordination between the sending railway zones — the Central, Western, Southern, South Western and South Central Railway — and (the receiving zones) Ferozepur and Ambala divisions in Northern Railways.
“It shouldn’t result in many trains reaching the Allahabad junction at the same time. Allahabad is a major bottleneck. Trains always get delayed there,” the official said.
“Things would have been better if three aspects were done — better planning of running of specials; better coordination between different rail zones; and better communication with passengers through the station and ticket checking staff,” the official added.
However, Arunendra Kumar, former railway board chairman, said the functioning of the Shramik trains are not a reflection on the working of the railways.
“These trains are working without a fixed timetable. It is not like ordinary times when passengers would buy tickets, and come to the station, and the train would depart,” he said. “Right now, the states bring the passengers, who have to be examined before boarding… Nobody gets to know if the passengers are being brought late by the state, these are the kind of things that lead to delays and piling up.
“However, a question that the railways does need to answer is: How much delay is acceptable? If you say that the train got delayed by 24 hours, it is fine, but can a train get delayed by 72 hours due to these problems,” he asked.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.