Lakhs of people were left stranded without food, shelter or income by the sudden lockdown.
- Those stranded by lockdown to return to their states, centre said
- Shramik (Worker) Special trains will run to take migrant workers home
- But passengers will be allowed only if they are found asymptomatic
Nearly five weeks after a sudden nationwide lockdown left lakhs of people stranded, in many cases without food, shelter or income, the centre on Friday said it will run special trains to take migrant labourers, students, pilgrims or tourists back home amid the COVID-19 crisis.
According to the Indian Railways, "Shramik (Worker) Special" trains will be run to take stranded people home and passengers will only be allowed on board once they are found to be asymptomatic upon screening. Physical distancing measures will be enforced on the trains.
The six trains announced so far will run from Lingampalli (Telangana) to Hatia (Jharkhand), Aluva (Kerala) to Bhubaneswar (Odisha), Nashik (Maharashtra) to Lucknow (UP), Nashik to Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh), Jaipur (Rajasthan) to Patna (Bihar) and Kota (Rajasthan) to Hatia (Jharkhand).
The states from where the people will be picked up will have to send people to the stations in batches and provide meals and drinking water to the passengers. Text messages from district magistrates will be considered tickets, officials said, adding forwarded messages will not be allowed.
The first of the trains to transport migrants stranded by the lockdown left Telangana for Jharkhand at around 4:30 this morning, carrying 1,200 people from Lingampally in the southern state to Jharkhand's Hatia district.
The 24-coach train, which usually seats 72 people in a compartment, contained only 54 people in each to follow physical distancing guidelines. All passengers were also screened for symptoms before being allowed to board.
The move to send these migrants home by train comes two days after the centre permitted migrants, students and other people who do not have symptoms of coronavirus infection to return home, amid the nationwide lockdown to break the chain of transmission of the virus.
Sources said the decision to allow stranded people to travel came after pressure from within the BJP. There were concerns the migrant crisis could damage the party politically and feedback to this effect was given to party chief JP Nadda during a virtual meeting with MPs and MLAs.
Lakhs of migrant workers and others had been left stranded 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.
As economic activity came to a sudden stop during the lockdown, thousands were left without jobs, money, food or shelter and, with interstate transport shut, had no choice but to walk hundreds, often thousands, of kilometres home, triggering a humanitarian crisis.
The second phase of the nationwide lockdown is scheduled to end on May 3. It is unclear, as yet, if the government will extend the lockdown a second time, although some states, including Telangana, have already done so.