New Delhi: With no sign of abatement in COVID-19 cases and May 3 drawing closer, more than 90 lakh passengers are anxiously waiting for the Railways’ decision on restarting train service after the last day of the second lockdown.
Indian Railways had cancelled the passenger service from March 22 to April 14 which was extended to May 3 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Though ticket booking has been completely suspended, there are about 45 lakh tickets booked beyond May 3 upto August 12, 2020 as advance booking system allows one to book tickets 120 days before in the reservation ticketing system.
Since this is a lean season, the demand for advance ticket booking is very low as compared to the rush period around festival months of Holi, Diwali, Christmas and Chhat among others where railways always run special trains to cater to the heavy demand.
So even if one ticket has two to three passengers, then there are more than 90 lakh passengers who have booked their train journey in advance before the Railways suspended bookings for an indefinite period.
According to the Railways Ministry, though the lockdown continuation seems to be inevitable to avert the larger crisis, a decision has to be taken on the period of suspension.
While there is a pressing need for special train service to facilitate movement of stranded migrants, the logistic support to restart inter-state service is yet to be finalised.
With the COVID-19 curve trajectory demanding a befitting containment response, a graded response to restart the passenger-carrying train operation is also eagerly awaited.
Till now, the national transporter has given Rs 2056 crore as refund to passengers in March and April for cancellation of the train service.
While the refund amount was Rs 1420 cr in March, for April 14-May 3 period, this amount was Rs 636 cr.
People now expect that the cancellation could be extended to May or June, but perhaps not beyond that depending upon the situation.
However, a senior Railways official clarified, "If the government decides further cancellation of service, then again, full refund would be given to the passengers. But it depends on how many days the service would remain suspended."
There are speculations that the government would allow limited train operations in a graded response to the crisis.
While some states are keen to bring back their migrant workers, some are also mulling bringing back employees to restart again.
Whatever may be the decision, it is unlikely that a full-fledged train operation will resume after May 3 and most probably, a partial lifting of lockdown would enable limited operation only.
As on Tuesday, 6,868 people have been cured of Covid-19, with a recovery rate of 23.3 per cent. A total of 29,974 cases with 937 deaths have been reported in India.
Railways is continuing with its freight service to transport essential commodities like foodgrains, oil, milk, medicines, fruits and vegetables.
Besides, the state-run transporter is also distributing free cooked meals to the poor people at various locations across the country while providing packaged drinking water to Delhi Police personnel on COVID-19 lockdown duty in the capital city.
The national transporter is now engaged in manufacturing PPE like face masks, sanitisers, coveralls among others while 5,000 coaches are being converted into isolation wards.
Arun Kumar Das is Delhi-based journalist and can be contacted at [email protected]. Views are personal.
Also read: Railways’ Sluggish Run Continues with Diminished Services Amid Extended COVID-19 Lockdown