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Each "shramik" train will carry between 1,000 and 1,200 people to ensure social distancing during travel. All passengers will be screened for coronavirus symptoms prior to boarding; only asymptomatic people will be allowed to travel, the Railways stressed. "It will be mandatory for every passenger to wear a face mask," Railways also said, adding that all passengers would be screened on arrival as well and those showing symptoms would be quarantined.
All meals and drinking water will be provided by government at point of origin, the Railways also said. In its statement the national transporter stressed these were "special trains for people nominated and identified by state governments" and "nobody should come to stations looking for trains". Only those passengers brought to the station by the state government will be allowed to board, the Railways said. Students have been told to bring identity cards and texts from district magistrates will also be accepted as tickets; forwarded messages will not.
A train from Nashik in Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow left at 10.20 am on Saturday, a Central Railway statement said. "As many as 847 passengers boarded the train following all social distancing norms. The special train has 17 coaches," Shivaji Sutar, a railways public relation officer, was quoted by news agency PTI.
Five more trains will run from Kerala today - two from Kochi and one from state capital Thiruvananthapuram. The departing station of the other two have yet to be decided. The train from Thiruvananthapuram is expected to leave at 2 pm and will run to Hatia in Jharkhand. Visuals from news agency ANI show police officers drawing circles outside the station to encourage people to follow social distancing.
On Friday Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had earlier expressed concern over allowing interstate movement during the lockdown, met his ministers to review preparations for the influx of migrants. The state expects around 10 lakh people to arrive and all of them will be quarantined for 21 days instead of 14, he said. The Chief Minister also said migrants would be given skill-training to help them settle and find jobs.
The first "special" train departed from Telangana's Lingampally district at 4.30 am on Friday. Bound for Hatia, it carried 1,200 migrants from Hyderabad and reached its destination later in the day. Four other trains were run on Friday - from Nashik to Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, from Aluva in Kerala to Odisha's Bhubaneswar and from Jaipur and Kota in Rajasthan to Bihar's Patna and Hatia.
The two trains that left Rajasthan at around 9 pm on Friday were carrying Jharkhand students stranded in Kota (a popular coaching hub for competitive exams) and Jaipur. According to PTI, Railway officials and others applauded as the train carrying over 1,000 students pulled away from the station in Kota. Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren confirmed the departure and thanked Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot for his help.
The train carrying migrants from Maharashtra's Nashik arrived in Madhya Pradesh's Bhopal on Saturday morning. Over 350 people were on that train and will be taken, via buses, to hometowns and villages after being screened for infection. The state government has spoken to the centre about shifting around one lakh people from Madhya Pradesh scattered around the country; around 35,000 have already been brought back.
Lakhs of migrant workers and others had been left stranded - without jobs, money, food or shelter - in states far from their own after the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 25. The centre had said migrants would be looked after, but the reality indicated otherwise, with reports of hunger coming in from various corners of the country.
The nationwide lockdown, imposed in March by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break the chain of transmission of the coronavirus, has been extended by two weeks, the Home Ministry said on Friday. The lockdown, which has already been extended once, had been due to end on May 3. During this time all rail, road and air traffic, except for special trains and cargo operations, remains banned. Across India the number of coronavirus cases has crossed 37,000 with 1,218 deaths linked to the virus.
With inputs from PTI, ANI