New Delhi: Lack of coordination and planning coupled with state-specific issues has caused operational problems for smooth running of Shramik Special trains resulting in increasing woes of hapless migrant workers.
Launched on May Day with great hope for lakhs of stranded workforce, Shramik Specials have been mired in controversy now with reports of death, non-availability of water and food in the peak summer heat in the non-AC trains.
A Shramik Special train from Mumbai meant to reach Gorakhpur had reached Rourkela instead. There are reports of delays of several hours at many places.
While several incidents of passengers attacking food kiosks and looting water bottles at stations have come to light, Shramik Specials meant to run smoothly have hit the path of turbulence in the recent past.
The irony of the situation is that the national transporter which used to operate more than 10,000 trains carrying over 2 crore passengers daily before lockdown, is now facing congestion even with just 200 to 300 trains a day.
Admitting operational issues, a senior railway official said, "These Shramik Specials do not have names and their destination is known because of their number starting with a zero. Then, the routes of these trains are also not properly identified before starting the particular train."
The official further said there is also lack of coordination between sending states and receiving states which has caused problems.
Whatever may be the reason, the chaos has exposed the absence of proper monitoring and planning for running these trains in the time of an extraordinary situation.
According to IRCTC, railways’ catering arm, 78 lakh free meals and more than 1.10 crore water bottles have been distributed to the travelling passengers onboard till now though there are several complaints of catering mismanagement resulting in lack of food and water in the peak heat.
Meanwhile, Indian Railways has run 3,543 Shramik Special trains till Wednesday morning across the country despite confronting operational issues, transporting about 48 lakh stranded passengers in the lockdown.
While a majority of Shramik Specials are heading towards Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, a significant number of trains have moved towards Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan and Assam.
Indian Railways has decided to run about 2,000 more Shramik Special trains in the next few days. In order to increase non-AC coaches for more Shramik Specials, the Railways has also decided to use about 3,000 coaches converted into isolation wards for COVID-19 patients. Though there are about 5,321 coaches converted into isolation wards for suspected coronavirus patients, these are lying idle as of now.
Apart from migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places are also boarding Shramik Special trains from May Day.
These trains originated from various states. The top five States/UTs from where maximum trains originated are Gujarat (946 Trains), Maharashtra (677 Trains), Punjab (377 Trains), Uttar Pradesh (243 Trains) and Bihar (215 Trains).
The Shramik Special trains terminated in various states across the country. The top five states where maximum trains terminated are Uttar Pradesh (1392 Trains), Bihar (1123 Trains), Jharkhand (156 Trains), Madhya Pradesh (119 Trains), Odisha (123 Trains).
In addition to Shramik Specials, the public transporter is also running 15 pairs of Rajdhani-like AC special trains connecting New Delhi from May 12 and is planning to start 200 more time-tabled trains from June 1.
With the airline service commencing, the operation of 200 more trains from June is expected to ease the rush to some extent now.
Also read: “The Fleeing Labourers are Caught in an Unusual Combination of Crises”
Arun Kumar Das is a Delhi-based journalist and can be contacted at [email protected]. The views are personal.