New Delhi: The Railway Board Chairman V.K. Yadav has effectively ruled out the resumption of passenger train services for now, and deploying the Shramik special trains to ferry migrants back to the cities they left.
In a telephonic interview to ThePrint, Yadav said that the special trains, ferrying regular passengers home since 1 June, have been running at just 60 per cent occupancy.
“Right now the 230 special trains we are running are not being occupied fully … The occupancy is about 60 per cent,” he said. “As and when they start getting occupied fully, we will add more trains … Until then, there is no point adding empty or scarcely occupied trains.”
“But right now, even in our advisories, we are urging people to travel only if it is necessary,” he added.
Yadav also asserted that the Shramik trains, meant for migrant labour, will not be deployed to bring the workers back from their hometowns to the cities they work in.
“People who are going back from their villages to cities to work would be doing so on the basis of the reassurance of their employers,” Yadav said. “So, the employers can pay for their tickets as well … Shramik trains will not be run for reverse migration.”
“The ones who wanted to go from villages to their hometowns were stranded … However, when they are going back to cities, they should rely on the reassurance of employers,” he said.
This is in contrast to what a senior railway official had told ThePrint Thursday — that the Shramik trains will run on the demands of the states irrespective of whether migrants are travelling to their homes or to cities where they work.
‘Trains will keep running as long as states request them’
Yadav, however, reiterated that Shramik trains will continue to run as long as states send requests for transporting stranded migrants to their hometowns. “We have repeatedly said that Shramik trains will be run until the time there are requests from the states,” he said.
In a letter sent to chief secretaries of all states and union territories Tuesday, Yadav has urged states to intimate the railways about “the comprehensive residual demand for Shramik Special Trains for movement of stranded workers from your state/UT” by 10 June.
As reported by ThePrint, as of 6 June, states had indicated the need for 171 more Shramik trains.
Some states like Punjab have asked the railways to run Shramik trains to bring back migrants to their places of work as industries open up, but the railways will not be heeding to those demands, Yadav said.
“The 230 special passenger trains we are running have been planned in a manner wherein they cover a wide network, and there are trains on every route,” he said. “The idea is to give confidence to the people that if they need to go to any place in the country, they can board a train … Migrants can use the same trains, and have their employers pay for the tickets.”
Currently, states pay for the tickets of migrants heading back home.
Data on migrant deaths preliminary: Yadav
Speaking on the deaths of 80 migrant workers aboard the Shramik trains, Yadav said the data, which was compiled by the Railway Protection Force (RPF), was “preliminary”, and it would be “incorrect” to draw conclusions on the basis of that.
“The railways is in touch with the respective states, and investigations are still on since there are so many states … But our preliminary findings suggest that most of the passengers who died had pre-medical histories,” Yadav said.
“How is it possible that a train is ferrying over 1,000 passengers, and one person dies because of shortage of food?” he asked. “I can say with utmost certainty that in 99 per cent of the cases, there was a timely, and adequate supply of food on trains … In 1 per cent cases, there might have been some delays, but one has to see the situation in which we were operating also.”
“There is scope for improvement, but the morale of 12 lakh railway employees, who have worked in the most trying circumstances to ensure that almost 60 lakh migrant workers are ferried should be respected too,” he added.
Yadav added that there were 36 deliveries on Shramik trains. “How could that have been possible if our railways doctors and nurses were not on their toes?” he asked. “It is not a small mission to take back 60 lakh migrants to their homes … Railways achieved that at such a trying time only because of the efforts of the railway employees.”
Asked about pending railway reforms such as the railway board reconstitution and merger of eight railway services, Yadav said, “The work is on. It had come to a halt because of the Covid situation, but within the next two months, we should have something in place. But of course, everything depends on the Covid situation.”
“Right now, our priorities are focusing on transportation of essential goods, running Shramik specials and providing services to those who need to travel,” he added.