On the request of the Telangana government and as per the directions of the Ministry of Railways, a special non-stop train with 1,200 migrant workers on board left for Jharkhand early in this morning to transport them while the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus is still on.
The train left Lingampalli in Hyderabad at 5 AM for Hatia in Jharkhand where it will reach around 11 PM today.
The special train operated as a “one-off service”, said officers of the Indian Railways. This is the first train to move stranded migrants since the lockdown began.
Officials in Jharkhand said the state government had made adequate arrangements for the testing and quarantine of the returning workers from the special non-stop train.
Indian Railways has suspended the passenger, mail and express train services to check the spread of COVID-19.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren confirmed earlier today that the Centre had accepted his request to run a special train to return people to the state: “The central government accepted our demand to bring back workers. We immediately started work to bring them back safely”.
“Just as students studying in other states are important to us, similarly migrant workers from the state are equally important. Security of each Jharkhand is your government’s priority,” he said.
A railway official said that train services could be planned only as per the directions of the Ministry of Railways and on request from originating and destination states.
The decision to transport migrants to their respective native places follows the Centre’s go-ahead to students, migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists and others to return to their destination on 29 April. This was 36 days after the lockdown was implemented.
The government issued an order to all the States and Union Territories to facilitate Inter-State movement of stranded people including migrant workers in the country.
The Ministry of Home Affairs had stated while allowing this movement that “buses shall be used for transport of a group of persons, of course, after proper sanitization and maintaining social distancing norms in seating”.
Many state governments were not sure this was the right thing too do. They said running special trains to transport stranded people and running long-distance buses were not feasible. States like Punjab and Kerala had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to arrange point-to-point special trains for their transport.
Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh said that Ludhiana alone had over 7 lakh migrant workers and the whole of Punjab over a million. The movement of such a large number of people would be possible only through trains while screening the travellers at the time of departure, he had said.
Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan had sought special non-stop trains for the inter-state movement of migrants. He had said that transporting nearly 3.6 lakh migrant workers following the MHA guidelines by buses was “impractical”.
Meanwhile, another special train carrying 1,200 people will reportedly leave Kochi in Kerala tonight for Bhubaneswar in Odisha.
According to Additional Chief Secretary Vishwas Mehta, “Five more trains are being allowed but their destinations are yet to be decided.”