Daily-wage labourers, students and staff at the city’s educational institutions are making a beeline for the first train home, with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announcing the closure of all non-essential workplaces in Mumbai, Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad and Nagpur from March 20 to March 31.
Railway stations in the city, as a result, witnessed an unprecedented rush. Most of the passengers are boarding trains headed for the North and East.
Daily-wage labourers said with the city under lockdown, their economic prospects looked bleak. Nitika Chaari and her husband Pradeep, an autorikshaw driver in Kandivali, were among the hundreds who boarded the LTT-Agra Lashkar Express. “My husband has been struggling to get passengers for the past three to four days, and the income has reduced. We decided to leave for my brother’s place in Morena, Madhya Pradesh, so that he can earn something there. We will return to Mumbai once the situation improves,” she said.Central Railway on Friday rolled out 12 special long-distance trains from Mumbai and Pune to various destinations such as Patna and Danapur in Bihar, Howrah in West Bengal, Gorakhpur and Manduadih in Uttar Pradesh, and even Balharshah in Maharashtra.
“There has been a sudden surge of passengers from Mumbai and Pune to destinations in the East and North in the wake of COVID-19. We are monitoring the situation closely and will add more trains if the situation demands it,” said Shivaji Sutar, Chief Public Relations Officer, CR.
At Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Bakul Kumar and his brother Devesh, both fish sellers, were among those travelling in eight unreserved compartments of the special train to Howrah. “Much of our catch went waste as no one was buying. We went to the extent of selling it to passengers in local trains. We are going to Kharagpur with the hope of getting a job to sustain our families,” Mr. Kumar said.
The special trains have a high proportion of unreserved and sleeper class compartments. Railway officials, however, said air conditioned coaches had few takers and many of reserved compartments were running empty.
Since March 17, CR has cancelled nearly 59 long distance and passenger trains across its five divisions as most were running with under 20% occupancy.
Apart from the daily wage labourers, students and staff from various educational institutions were also returning home. Nitin Jo Verghese, who works at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, said the institute had asked everyone leave as all the departments, including the canteen, had temporarily closed.
Many students said the increase in the number of cases had their parents worried, and they were promptly asked to return home.
Swati Narayan, a Ranchi-based researcher, said there was chaos on Friday morning at Dadar as the Howrah-bound Gitanjali Express arrived. “There was a large crowd when the train arrived with people practically jumping into every coach possible. There were nearly 50 to 100 people trying to get through each door. As a result of the rush, I couldn’t get in,” she said.
Western Railway's (WR) major terminal stations such as Mumbai Central and Bandra Terminus too saw serpentine queues. WR announced that it had cancelled 12 trains, most of them connecting Mumbai and Gujarat, on account of the Janata Curfew on Sunday.