Railways allows more passengers, three stops for Shramik Specials
A Shramik Special train has 24 coaches; each with a capacity of 72 seats. Previously, just 54 people were allowed in a coach while the middle berth was not allotted to any passenger to maintain social distancing.Updated: May 11, 2020 16:54 IST
Indian Railways on Monday approved an increase in the number of passengers allowed on board Shramik Special trains it is running for migrant workers returning home after being stranded by the post-Covid-19 lockdown, and allowed the trains to make three stops en route to their destinations.
Shramik Specials, which have so far been running without any stops on the way, are now allowed carry up to 1,700 people. The special trains have 24 coaches, each with 72 seats. Until now, only 54 people have been allowed in each coach, with the middle berth left empty to maintain social distancing, meaning each train carried about 1,200 passengers.
According to the new guidelines issued by Indian Railways, a copy of which was reviewed by Hindustan Times, a train’s capacity should now be equal to the number of sleeper berths it has.
The Union home ministry, meanwhile, asked all states and Union territories to cooperate with the railways in running more Shramik Special trains, which started on May 1 after state governments requested the Centre to facilitate the return of migrant workers stranded in various parts of the country because of the lockdown imposed on March 25 for the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I urge upon you all to allow receiving of all Shramik Special trains without any hindrance and facilitate faster movement of stranded migrant workers to their native places,” a letter written by home secretary Ajay Bhalla to state and Union Territory administrations said.
He also asked states and Union territories to ensure that migrant workers do not resort to walking on the roads and rail tracks and use the special trains for travel home.
The developments came a day after railway minister Piyush Goyal said Indian Railways had geared up to run 300 trains a day to ferry migrant labourers to their hometowns. He also appealed to the states to ramp up efforts to ensure these workers reach their destinations across the country in the next three-four days.
“The minister has appealed to all states, especially states that have allowed very few trains (so far)...Same was discussed in the home secretary’s VC (video conference) with states yesterday (Sunday), and he has written a letter to them. The home minister (Amit Shah), in particular, has appealed to West Bengal, which has very low numbers (of trains that it has approved),” a railway ministry spokesperson said.
According to the ministry, West Bengal, which has a significant number of migrant labourers, has allowed two trains so far, and later approved two special trains each from Punjab and Tamil Nadu, three from Karnataka and one from Telangana. West Bengal has previously denied that it was dragging its feet in facilitating the return of migrants home
Until May 11, a total of 468 Shramik Special trains had run from various states. Of them, 363 reached their destinations: Andhra Pradesh (1 train), Bihar (100 trains), Himachal Pradesh (1 train), Jharkhand (22 trains), Madhya Pradesh (30 trains), Maharashtra (3 trains), Odisha (25 trains), Rajasthan (4 trains), Telangana (2 trains), Uttar Pradesh (172 trains), West Bengal (2 trains) and Tamil Nadu (1 train). The remaining 105 were in transit, the ministry said.
Experts have suggested that the total number of stranded migrants is far more than government estimates.
According to the Economic Survey 2016-17 that used new metrics to give updated data on migration, there was an annual interstate migration flow of close to 9 million from 2011 to 2016 in a “circular” fashion (to and from), based on the data from the railways.
In the first week of April, a status report submitted by the Centre to the Supreme Court said a little over a million migrant workers and others were housed at 26,476 relief and active shelter camps across the country. Of them, 630,000 were in government camps and the rest in those run by non-government organisations.
The railways will also begin passenger services gradually with trains to 15 destinations from May 12, the government announced on Sunday, green-lighting the resumption of these operations close to two months after it stopped them as part of a strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Bookings for these trains — all of them will start from the New Delhi Railway Station — will begin at 4pm on Monday only on the website of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
These trains will run to Dibrugarh (Assam), Agartala (Tripura), Howrah (West Bengal), Patna (Bihar), Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Bhubaneswar (Odisha), Secunderabad (Telangana), Bengaluru (Karnataka), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), Madgaon (Goa), Mumbai Central (Maharashtra), Ahmedabad (Gujarat) and Jammu Tawi (Jammu and Kashmir).