The Indian Railways has initiated talks with state governments of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu to operate special trains for migrant workers who find themselves without work due to localised lockdown-like restrictions to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The Railways plans to operate four special trains every week from states imposing restrictions on mobility and lockdown to the states of origin of the migrant workers, to prevent a 2020-like situation when lakhs chose to walk all the way back to their villages.
“We are in talks with state governments and will start special trains just two days after lockdown-like restrictions are imposed by any state government,” said a senior government official.
He added that the Railway Board has informed zonal heads across Indian Railways to keep special trains on standby to operate if any state goes into a lockdown.
There were no reports of unusual movement so far of migrant workers owing to the limited restrictions imposed by state governments, the Union government said recently.
“As on the day of review, the business situation is normal throughout the country except 50% restrictions on workforce at some places," the Ministry of Labour and Employment had said in a statement earlier this week.
Sources said that the Railways plans to first start operating special trains from stations in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Secunderabad, as these cities were reporting rising number of COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks.
These special trains will observe all the COVID-19 protocols and carry out thermal scanning of all passengers. The trains will be run at subsidized fares, with state governments paying part of the fare to ensure that migrant workers do not face any problems in booking tickets, another senior government official said.
The plans for special trains are being finalised at a time when the number of active cases in the country has climbed to around 10 lakhs as of January 14. Positivity rate in the country has also reached 11.05 percent.
Further, many states including Delhi, have ordered lockdown- like restrictions including limiting the operation of restaurants, private offices and contact intensive services.
Many daily wage workers have been affected by the current set of restrictions imposed by states. Many fear that there life may come to a standstill once again if more restrictions are imposed. The Union Labour and Employment Ministry data show that over 1.14 crore inter-state migrant workers returned home during the 2020 lockdown.