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Centre asks states to operate more special trains to transport migrants amid COVID-19 lockdown

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said that fear of COVID-19 infection and apprehension of loss of livelihood are the main driving factors for the movement of stranded workers towards their homes.

Published: 19th May 2020 12:58 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th May 2020 01:33 PM   |  A+A-

Migrant workers see outside the train window as they travel in a special train to arrive in their native places during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against coronavirus, in Prayagraj on Monday

Migrant workers see outside the train window as they travel in a special train to arrive in their native places during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against coronavirus, in Prayagraj on Monday. (Photo| ANI)

By PTI

NEW DELHI: The Centre has asked the states and the union territories to operate more special trains in close coordination with the railways for transportation of migrant workers and said special attention should be given to women, children and elderly.

The Home Ministry on Tuesday also issued a Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) for the movement of migrant workers by trains who are stranded at different places due to the lockdown.

In his communication to all state governments and UT administrations, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said fear of COVID-19 infection and apprehension of loss of livelihood are the main driving factors for the movement of stranded workers towards their homes.

"In order to mitigate the distress of migrant workers, I would be grateful if the following measures could be implemented," he said in the letter issued on Monday.

The home secretary suggested that more special trains should be arranged by pro-active coordination between the states and the Ministry of Railways. He also said arrangement for resting places, taking into account requirement of sanitation, food and health, should be made.

There should be more clarity about the departure of trains and buses, as lack of clarity coupled with rumours caused unrest amongst the workers. "Special attention may be given to the specific requirements of women, children and elderly amongst the migrant workers," Bhalla said.

District authorities may guide workers moving on foot to designated rest places, nearby bus terminals or railway stations by arranging transportation, enlisting the migrants with their addresses and contact numbers, which may be helpful in contact tracing in due course and involvement of NGO representatives at rest places etc, he said.

Bhalla said steps should be taken for the alleviation of the notion of long quarantine at rest places by district authorities or NGO workers. "Increase in number of buses for transporting migrants are some other measures suggested," he said.

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Besides, entry of buses carrying migrants at inter-state border should be allowed, adequate arrangement of food, health care and counselling to encourage the workers to remain at places where they are should also be made, he added.

The home secretary asked the states and UTs to give directions to the district authorities to request the ministry of railways for running trains, where required, and ensure that no migrant worker has to resort to walking on roads or railway tracks to reach his destination.

"As you may be aware, area officers in ministry of home affairs are already assisting state nodal officers and railway nodal officers in movement of stranded labour. We would be happy to facilitate the process further," he said. The home secretary reminded the states and UTs of his April 29 order that the states and UTs falling on the transit route will allow the passage of migrant workers to the receiving state and the UT.

He said that the district authorities may ensure smooth and unhindered movement of buses transporting stranded persons. "I would be grateful for your cooperation in pro-active monitoring and resolution of the situation," Bhalla said Meanwhile, the union home secretary in his capacity as chairperson of the National Executive Committee under the Disaster Management Act issued revised SOP for the movement of stranded migrant workers by trains.

As per the revised SOP for running Shramik Special trains, permission will be given by the Ministry of Railways (MOR) in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). All states and UTs should designate nodal authorities and make necessary arrangements for receiving and sending such stranded persons, according to the SOP.

The train schedule including stoppages and destination shall be finalised by the MOR based on the requirements of states and UTs and shall be communicated by the MOR to the states and UTs for making suitable arrangements for sending and receiving such stranded workers, it said.

Train schedule, protocols for entry and movement of passengers, services to be provided in coaches, and arrangements with states and UTs for booking of tickets shall be publicised by MOR.

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Sending states and UTs and the MOR shall ensure that all passengers shall be compulsorily screened, and only asymptomatic passengers are allowed to board the train, it said. During boarding and travel, all passengers will have to observe social distancing.

The SOP said that on arrival at their destination, the travelling passengers will have to adhere to such health protocols as are prescribed by the destination state and UT.

Movement of migrant workers during the lockdown has become a humanitarian crisis with thousands of them being seen walking on roads and railway tracks ignoring government pleas to stay back at the place where they are.

At least 16 such people were mowed down by a goods' train in Maharashtra, while at least 100 others were killed in road accidents in different parts of the country. The railways have so far run around 1,500 'Shramik Special' trains since May 1, ferrying over 17 lakh people from various parts of the country to different destinations.

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