Consent of the destination states is not required for operating Shramik Special trains for transporting stranded migrants, said the Indian Railways on Tuesday (May 19). This came after the Centre had noted some states were being laggard in allowing these trains to enter amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
“Consent of terminating state not necessary to run Shramik Special trains. After the new SOP, the implication is that no consent of receiving state is mandatory,” said Railways spokesperson Rajesh Bajpai, referring to the revised standard operating protocol issued earlier in the day for running these trains.
Earlier, a political storm had broken out when Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had noted that West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were being laggard in approving these trains. Since May 1, the Railways has run 1,565 migrant trains and ferried over 20 lakh migrants.
According to the revised SOP, which was issued by the Union Home Ministry, states and union territories must designate nodal authorities and make necessary arrangements for receiving and sending such stranded people.
While issuing the revised SOP, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said that for running Shramik Special trains, the permission will be given by the Ministry of Railways in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, the guidelines issued by the railways ministry on May 2 for these trains said, “The consent of receiving state shall be obtained by originating state, and a copy provided to Railways before departure of train.”
According to the fresh SOP, the train schedule, including stoppages and destination, shall be finalised by the railways ministry based on the requirements of states and UTs, and shall be communicated by the ministry to the states and UTs for making suitable arrangements for sending and receiving such stranded workers.
Officials explained that the railways ministry will ensure more halts of the special trains for the convenience of migrant workers. The SOP said the train schedule, protocols for entry and movement of passengers, services to be provided in coaches, and arrangements with states and UTs for booking of tickets shall be publicised by the railways ministry.
Sending states and UTs, and the railways ministry will ensure that passengers are compulsorily screened, and only asymptomatic passengers are allowed to board the trains, it said. During boarding and travel, all passengers will have to observe social distancing. On arrival, passengers will have to adhere to health protocols prescribed by the destination state or UT, the SOP said.
In a separate communication to states, the Union home ministry asked states and UTs to operate more Shramik Special trains in close coordination with the Railways and said special attention should be given to women, children and the elderly. In his letter, Bhalla said fear of COVID-19 infection and apprehension of loss of livelihood are the main driving factors for the movement of stranded workers to their homes.
“In order to mitigate the distress of migrant workers, I would be grateful if the following measures could be implemented,” he said in the letter that was issued on Monday. The home secretary suggested that more special trains should be arranged through proactive coordination between states and the railways ministry.
He also said arrangement of places to rest, taking into account requirement of sanitation, food and health, should be made. There should be more clarity about departure of trains and buses, as lack of clarity coupled with rumours has caused unrest among migrant workers, he said. Special attention should be given to the specific requirements of women, children and the elderly, among the migrant workers, Bhalla said.
District authorities may guide workers moving on foot to designated rest places, nearby bus terminals or railway stations by arranging transportation, enlist them with their addresses and contact numbers, which may be helpful in contact tracing in due course and involvement of NGO representatives, he said.
Bhalla said steps should be taken for the alleviation of the notion of long quarantine at rest places by district authorities or NGO workers. Increase in number of buses for transporting migrants are some other measures suggested, he said. Besides, entry of buses carrying migrants at inter-state border, adequate arrangement of food, health care and counselling to encourage them to remain at places where they are should also be made, Bhalla added.
He asked states and UTs to give directions to the district authorities to request the railways ministry for running trains, where required, and ensure that no migrant worker has to resort to walking on roads or railway tracks to reach destination.
He said that “as you may be aware, area officers in ministry of home affairs are already assisting state nodal officers and railway nodal officers in movement of stranded labourers.” “We would be happy to facilitate the process further,” Bhalla said.
The home secretary reminded states and UTs of his April 29 order that states and UTs falling on the transit route will allow the passage of migrant workers to the receiving state and UT. District authorities may ensure smooth and unhindered movement of buses transporting stranded persons, he said.
Movement of migrant workers during the lockdown has become a humanitarian crisis with thousands of them being seen walking on roads and railway tracks ignoring government pleas to stay back at the place where they are. At least 16 such people were mowed down by a goods train in Maharashtra, while at least 100 others were killed in road accidents in different parts of the country.
(With inputs from agencies)