Rajat Sharma

Trains are waiting, migrants desperate to go, who’s stopping them?

AKB2610In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Tuesday, we showed visuals of Shramik Special trains standing idle at Mumbai stations and thousands of home-bound migrants waiting for buses to ferry them to their respective trains.

There was complete mismanagement because the Maharashtra government failed to make proper bus arrangements for sending these migrants in special trains. Late in the evening, buses and tempos were hurriedly brought and the migrants were sent to stations, packed like sardines inside buses and tempos.

India TV reporters sent ground reality reports from Kurla Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Bandra Terminus. These painted a grim picture about the lack of planning and management on part of the state government.

The Railways had kept 145 special trains ready at various stations of Maharashtra for migrants on Tuesday. There was lack of planning on part of the state government for ferrying these migrants to their respective trains. The result: thousands of migrants were kept waiting for hours under a scorching sun, unsure of which stations to reach.

Had these 145 trains run on schedule, nearly 2.5 lakh migrants could have left for their home states. There was complete confusion at the level of state administration and local police.

The Railways were supposed to run 74 trains from Mumbai by 12.30 pm, but only 27 trains had left by 6 pm. By late evening, migrants were dumped in buses and tempos and ferried to stations, but by that time the entire running schedule of the railways had gone haywire.

The Railways have a vast network and a time-bound scheduling is done to manage operations of regular and special trains. If 47 trains are delayed, the bandwagon effect occurs, throwing the entire schedule into disarray.

One more example. Mahrashtra government had sought 41 trains to ferry migrants to West Bengal, but Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s government decided that not more than two or three special trains per day will be allowed. Lakhs of Bengali migrants are thus stranded in Maharashtra.

The Railways have run 3,276 Shramik Special trains since May 1 transporting more than 44 lakh migrants to their home states. No other state governments had problem, except these two states – Maharashtra and West Bengal.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s govt had sought 145 trains and the Railway kept them ready, but on its part, the Maharashtra government was not ready with the passenger lists and buses.

Migrants were informed by police late after midnight to reach particular spots to catch buses, but none of the migrants knew which special train will originate from which station.

On the other hand, empty special trains stood at stations for hours, waiting for migrants to come and board. Thousands of migrants gathered in Dharavi waiting for buses to come and ferry them to their trains. Similarly, thousands stood outside Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

Sixty-eight trains were scheduled to leave on Tuesday for UP, 27 for Bihar, and one train each were to leave for Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan. Till 12 noon, only one out of 18 trains scheduled to depart for UP had left. At Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Kurla), thousands of migrants were brought in packed buses to board special trains. The entire station was packed with migrants and social distancing norms were thrown to the wind.

Bengal-bound migrants were the most harassed lot. Uddhav Thackeray’s government had asked for 125 trains on May 25, but could submit passenger data about only 41 trains. Out of this, only 39 trains ran. Two Bengal-bound trains were cancelled.

On Tuesday, the Maharashtra government sought 41 trains, but Mamata Banerjee’s government refused to allow more than three trains per day in her state. Thousands of Bengali migrants are now blaming both Mamata Banerjee and Uddhav Thackeray for this fiasco.

I have been speaking to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal regularly in the past few weeks about the plight of migrant labourers walking across the country to their native places. I had been persuading him to run trains to help these migrants reach their villages. On his part, the Railway Minister has tried his best to accommodate requests for special trains from all state governments.

Piyush Goyal showed me the entire list of special trains, the reminders sent by his officials to Maharashtra government and copies of letters sent. No Railway Minister can do more than this.

It is the duty of the state governments to prepare passenger and destination lists, ferry them in buses to stations for screening, and for recipient states to arrange quarantine. The Railways provide free food and water in trains to migrants, and most of them have said they have had a good experience during their travel. But why this mismanagement in Maharashtra? This question begs a reply.

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