The death of migrants on board the Shramik special trains and reports of passengers complaining of lack of food, water, and hygiene have become a huge cause for concern for the Indian Railways.
The trains are being run on a daily basis throughout the country to ensure that migrants can travel back to their homes. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal appealed yesterday that “people suffering from serious ailments, pregnant women & those above 65 years & below 10 years of age to travel only when necessary in Shramik Trains.”
Issuing a detailed statement, the Ministry said that “a few unfortunate cases of deaths related to pre-existing medical conditions while travelling have happened.”
It further said that persons with co-morbidities (like hypertension, diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, immune deficiency conditions), pregnant women, children below the age of 10 years and persons above 65 years of age may avoid travel by rail, except when it is essential.”
However, with lakhs of migrants being brought home by trains from different states of the country, this appeal during the times of Covid-19 pandemic may not be adequate.
While the Indian Railways maintains that it has distributed more than 85 lakh free meals and about 1.25 crore free water bottles to migrants travelling in Shramik special trains since May 1, many travellers have complained of getting none during journey which is taking more than its usual time in the special trains.
As many as 3,736 Shramik special trains have run from May 1 till May 28, taking over 50 lakh migrants home. Around 67 more trains are in the pipeline on different routes.
Maximum trains have originated from Gujarat (979) followed by Maharashtra (695), Punjab (397), Uttar Pradesh (263) and Bihar (263).
The top five states where maximum trains terminated are Uttar Pradesh (1520 trains), Bihar (1296), Jharkhand (167), Madhya Pradesh (121) and Odisha (139).
In addition to Shramik specials, Railways is also running 15 pairs of special trains connecting New Delhi and plan to start 200 more time-tabled trains starting June 1.
The Supreme Court on Thursday had put three questions to the Centre, and also to the state governments, on the plight of migrant workers during the lockdown. "Did the migrants pay for their ticket, who paid for their food on trains and who is ensuring that migrants are not hungry?" it asked.
The top court had also said that the state, where the journey originates, will provide food and water at the railway station, and during the journey, the railways will provide meals and water to them.
Hopefully, with the congestion on major routes now being controlled much more effectively, the journey back home for the migrant worker and his family may not be as torturous as it was in May..