New Delhi: To ferry more migrant workers to their home states, the Ministry of Railways Monday increased the number of passengers travelling in ‘Shramik Special’ trains to 1,700 from 1,200 per train.
“The government wants more and more migrants to reach their homes across the country,” a railways ministry official told ThePrint. “If the lockdown has to be lifted soon and industries open up, it is important that the migrants go back to their homes at least once… It is a humanitarian and an emotive issue.”
The official also said the decision to increase the number of passengers per train comes after 16 migrant workers were run over by a goods train in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra last week.
“The incident led to a feeling that the railways’ capacity should be expanded, and more and more migrants should be travelling by train instead of going by foot,” the official said.
Railways Minister Piyush Goyal Monday also tweeted that his ministry would increase the number of migrant trains running per day to 300. Currently, over 40 trains are being run per day.
“We have allocated over 1,200 trains with which we can easily run 300 ’Shramik Special’ trains everyday, so that all migrants can reach their destination safely, quickly and comfortably,” he wrote.
From 1 May, 468 ‘Shramik Special’ trains have run until Monday, according to the railways ministry. Over 75 per cent of these trains have gone to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Of the 468 trains, 363 have already reached their destinations, while the remaining are on their way.
Of the 363 trains, 172 went to Uttar Pradesh, 100 to Bihar, 30 to Madhya Pradesh, 25 to Odisha, 22 to Jharkhand, four to Rajasthan, three to Maharashtra, two each to West Bengal and Telangana, and one each to Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
According to Railways officials, over 4.5 lakh passengers have reached their home states via these trains so far.
No clarity on social distancing
The Railways has, however, not provided any details of social distancing measures that could be implemented given that 500 additional passengers will now be accommodated.
Each ‘Shramik Special’ train has 24 coaches. While each coach has a capacity of 72 seats, so far just 54 people were allowed in a coach, and the middle berth was not allotted to any passenger in order to maintain social distancing.
According to a railway official, a ‘Shramik Special’ train’s capacity will now be equal to the number of sleeper berths it has.
But, a railways ministry spokesperson told ThePrint: “Things are beginning to get normal now… People are very aware of social distancing measures, the need to wear masks, etc… So we decided that it is important to increase the capacity of the trains.”
Giving an example, he said if there are 6,000 migrants who want to go from Bhopal to Patna, they can be sent in three trips.
“In any case, we are taking due precautions about only allowing asymptomatic cases to travel, we are conducting proper screening, and anyway people have to be quarantined for 14 days after reaching the destination,” the spokesperson said.
The ministry, meanwhile, said ‘Shramik Special’ trains will now stop three times en route. Earlier, the railways was running no-stop trains.
Centre wants states’ cooperation
The decision to increase the number of passengers in each ‘Shramik Special’ train comes on a day when Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to all states, asking them to cooperate with the railways and give prompt permission to run migrant trains across the country to ensure they are sent back to their home states at the earliest.
In the letter, Bhalla said: “Since their movement by buses and Shramik Special trains has already been allowed to enable their travel to native places, all states, union territory governments should ensure that migrant workers do not resort to walking on roads or railway tracks.
“In case they are found in such condition, they should appropriately be counselled, taken to nearby shelters, and provided with food, water, etc. Till such time they (should be) facilitated to board the ‘Shramik’ special trains or buses to their native places,” he added.
The issue of migrants was also discussed in the meeting between Union Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba and states’ chief secretaries Sunday.
Gauba also told the states the migrant workers should be allowed to return home and if needed, more trains will be provided to transport them.
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