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New Delhi, May 1, 2020
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) today issued an order allowing the movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons, stranded at different places across the country, by special trains to be operated by the Ministry of Railways (MoR).
In fact, even before the announcement was made, the first such train left from Lingampally near Hyderabad in Telangana for Jharkhand, while another train was due to leave late this evening from Aluva near Ernakulam in Kerala for Bhubaneswar in Odisha.
Tens of thousands of migrant workers and other people are stranded in various states after the government imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 25 to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The lockdown, imposed initially for 21 days up to April 14, was extended by 19 days till May 3. Today, the government extended the lockdown for another two weeks from May 4, though considerable relaxations have been announced for many districts.
The Government had a couple of days ago allowed the inter-statement of stranded people by road, but several state governments said that road journeys for such long distances were impractical and trains needed to be run.
An official press release from the Ministry of Home Affairs said the Ministry of Railways would designate nodal officer(s) for coordinating with States/ UTs for the movement of people. It would also issue detailed guidelines for sale of tickets; for social distancing and other safety measures to be observed at stations, platforms and within the trains.
In a separate press release, the Ministry of Railways said the trains, to be called "Shramik Special Trains, would be run from point to point on the request of both the concerned State Governments as per the standard protocols for sending and receiving such stranded persons. The Railways and State Governments shall appoint senior officials as Nodal Officers for coordination and smooth operation of these “Shramik Specials”.
The passengers have to be screened by the sending states and only those found asymptomatic would be allowed to travel. Sending State Governments will have to bring these persons in batches that can be accommodated in the train to the designated Railway Station in sanitized buses following social distancing norms and other precautions. It will be mandatory for every passenger to wear face cover. Meals and drinking water would be provided to the passengers by the sending states at the originating station.
The Railways will endeavour to ensure social distancing norms and hygiene with the cooperation of passengers. On longer routes, the Railways will provide a meal enroute during the journey.
On arrival at the destination, passengers will be received by the State Government, who would make all arrangements for their screening, quarantine if necessary and further travel from the railway station, it added.
The first train from Telangana had 1,200 people on board and the one from Kerala is also expected to have similar numbers.
Comprising mostly migrant workers from the IIT-Hyderabad campus among others, the passengers were seen off at Lingampally by policemen, government officials, managers of companies as the train rolled out of the station at dawn.
The workers reached the station in designated buses during the night and were then provided with food as social distancing was maintained through out the operation.
According to the railway officials, it is a non-stop train that has been operated as a "one-off" service on Friday morning. The train left the Lingampalli station at 5 a.m. It will reach Hatia in Jharkhand around 11 p.m.
The decision to run a special train came after a meeting between Home and Railways ministries late on Thursday.
The train had 24 coaches with 54 passengers in each coach against its capacity of 72.
This was the first passenger train run in the country in 40 days after the government suspended all train services during the lockdown period. Only freight and special parcel trains were running to ensure the supply.of essential items across the country.
The Centre had also allowed special trains for Indian Army personnel since April 17.
The train from Kerala was scheduled to leave at 6 p.m, but owing to a delay in the registration process, it was delayed by a couple of hours or more.
"I have been here for the past eight years, but now we are all returning to our home-town. Along with me is my full family of two kids and my wife... We are scared of coronavirus. We are thankful to all who have made this happen," said an Oriya man waiting in the queue.
"We never thought our return would happen so quickly. We are happy to go back," said another youth.
Meanwhile, as the news spread about the train service resuming on Friday morning, the Aluva station was besieged by migrant labourers enquiring about trains' schedule. All of them were told politely that everybody would be taken on board and that none should create a scene.
At Perambavoor, which has the highest number of migrant labourers, the health and police authorities had opened four registrations counters and those wanting to return stood in a queue for registration.
"There are some more seats to be filled, but the counter will close soon and then those who have been given a token to travel will be asked to board a state-owned bus which will drop them at the Aluva railway station," said a police officer overseeing the registration.
According to the state Labour Department, there are 20,826 camps across the state where 3,61,190 migrant labourers are sheltered.
Trains will also depart from big cities like Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode.
Ernakulam district, being the commercial capital of the state, has the highest number of migrant labourers.
The police will be transporting labourers from the various camps in the city to these stations.