Two days after allowing migrant labourers, students, pilgrims or tourists who do not have coronavirus symptoms of coronavirus to return to their home states, the centre on Friday said special trains will be run amid the nationwide lockdown.
The first “special train” 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.
According to sources a second such train is scheduled to depart Kerala’s Ernakulam at 6 pm for Bhubaneshwar in Odisha. Sources have said the train, which will carry over 1,000 people, will be thoroughly disinfected and all passengers, who will be brought to the station by the state, will be required to maintain social distancing.
Indian Railways zonal offices have received more such requests from state governments to run special trains.
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, nearly five weeks after a nationwide lockdown was imposed 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.