Coronavirus lockdown | State nod not necessary for Shramik trains

Decision will be made by Railway Ministry based on requests from States and Union Territories.

Updated - May 19, 2020 11:29 pm IST

Published - May 19, 2020 01:23 pm IST - New Delhi

Workers waiting to board a Shramik Special train.

Workers waiting to board a Shramik Special train.

As lakhs of migrant workers continue to walk to reach their homes amid the lockdown , the Union government on Tuesday issued new guidelines stating that the schedule, destination and stoppage of Shramik Special trains will be decided by the Ministry of Railways (MoR) based on requests from States.

It said the movement of these trains shall be permitted by the Ministry in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Also read |Shramik Special trains to now have three stops, increased capacity

A railway spokesperson said a State should register passengers and send a request, after which the train would be run. The consent of the State government where the train journey would terminate was not necessary.

The decision is bound to create confusion as the States have to arrange other facilities such as quarantine centres and transportation of the incoming passengers. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has accused several Opposition-ruled States of not accepting many trains ferrying migrants, a claim that has been refuted by the States.

The lockdown, first imposed on March 24 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is currently in its fourth phase that will end on May 31.

The May 1 standard operating procedure (SOP) had said that these special trains would be run from point to point on the request of both the State governments concerned as per the standard protocols. This provision has been dropped in Tuesday’s fresh SOP issued by the MHA .

The fresh SOP says, “the train schedule including stoppages and destination shall be finalised by MoR based on the requirements of the States/UTs and shall be communicated by the MoR to the States/UTs for making suitable arrangements for sending and receiving such stranded workers.”

It said that train schedules and booking of tickets shall be publicised by the railways. The States would have to ensure proper screening of passengers at railway stations and only asymptomatic ones would be allowed to board the trains.

MHA letter to States

On Monday, in a letter to all the States, the MHA said lack of clarity on trains and buses, coupled with rumours, had caused unrest among the migrant workers. Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said that “fear of COVID-19 and apprehension of loss of livelihood” were the main driving factors for movement of stranded migrants workers towards their homes.

The letter asked the district authorities to ensure that no migrant worker had to resort to walking on roads or railway track and they may request the Ministry of Railways to run trains. A similar letter was sent on May 11.

The MHA has asked “Operation of more special trains by proactive coordination between the States and the Ministry of Railways.”

It directed the States to “increase the number of buses for transporting migrants, allowing entry of buses carrying migrants at inter-State borders…More clarity may be given about departure of trains and buses, as lack of clarity coupled with rumours caused unrest amongst the workers.”

Resting points

It said the local administrations should designate resting points on routes where migrants were known to be walking with “adequate facilities for sanitation, food and healthcare.”

It asked the district authorities to guide the workers moving on foot to designated rest places, nearby bus terminals or railway stations by arranging transportation.

“Special attention may be given to the specific requirements of women, children and elderly amongst the migrant workers. District authorities may involve NGO representatives at rest places etc. to alleviate the notion of long quarantine at rest places. Workers may also be encouraged to remain at places where they are. Enlisting of the migrants with their addresses and contact numbers may be helpful in contact tracing in due course,” the letter said.

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