States to collect rail fares: Govt in guidelines
State authorities shall collect fares after distributing tickets among stranded migrants and students who are boarding special trains to return to their hometowns, and hand over the amount to the Indian Railways, the railways ministry said in fresh guidelines on Sunday.
After allowing the running of the Shramik Special trains on Friday, the railways said it will charge sleeper class fares and an additional Rs 50 for one point-to-point journey, while it also added that states can coordinate and pay on passengers’ behalf.
The move to charge fares for these trains ferrying migrants --- many of them have lost their jobs --- students and others stranded in different parts of the country due to the ongoing lockdown met with opposition.
Rajasthan deputy chief minister and state Congress president Sachin Pilot said the central government should bear the expenses. “They have no earnings. In such a situation, they should not be charged fares…,” he said.
Criticising the Centre, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: “It is very unfair that the entire responsibility has been shifted to the state governments....In Parliament, the government said it bore the entire cost of repatriating Indians stuck abroad. In the same manner the migrants should have been sent back.”
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah tweeted similar views. “If you are stuck abroad during this COVID crisis this government will fly you back for free but if you are a migrant worker stranded in another state be prepared to cough up the cost of travel (with social distancing cost added)...,” he said.
According to the fresh guidelines, the railways shall print train tickets to specified destinations on the basis of the number of passengers indicated by an originating state, and give the tickets to the local government authority. “The local state government authority shall hand over the tickets to the passengers cleared by them and collect the ticket fare and hand over the total amount to the railways,” the guidelines said.
The railways also said these trains were being run only for those who have been identified and allowed to travel by the states sending and receiving them, and not for the general public. The railways reserves the right to discontinue the special train operations if safety protocols are flouted at any stage, the ministry said.
“The originating state will inform the exact number of passengers travelling in a train, which should be 1200 (or at least 90%) considering the capacity…,” the guidelines said.
Shramik Special trains are bound for a single destination without any stoppages. Usually, they have 24 coaches with each carrying a little over 50 in place of the total capacity of 72. These trains will run for distances of over 500 km.
“We have informed that trains will not be stopping at any station in the middle, and states must make it clear to the passengers as there have been incidents where they thought they could get off…,” an official said on the condition of anonymity.
The guidelines also said local authorities will give food packets and drinking water to passengers at the originating station. The railways will provide one meal on the train for a journey of over 12 hours.
The railways ministry also asked states to encourage passengers to download the Aarogya Setu app for checking the health status of passengers.
It will also be the responsibility of the governments sending people to bring such individuals to designated stations in sanitized buses, following social distancing norms. All passengers will have to mandatorily wear masks. Passengers will have to be screened by the sending states and only those found without symptoms of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) will be allowed to travel.
States are also scrambling to arrange payments for the railways in order to ensure the running of these trains to bring their residents back home. Jharkhand is one of the few that has made an advance payment to the railways for deploying 31 special trains, according to officials aware of the developments.
Five Shramik Special trains were run on Friday and 10 on Saturday. According to officials, railways is unlikely to run trains originating from red zones such as Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, at least for now.
“There are no trains planned for now, but we are running (trains) in nearby places…like in Maharashtra trains, are being run at Bhiwandi and Vasai…Trains will only run to these places (red zones) when the demand from the state government comes,” said the official quoted above.