For migrant labourers returning home even the special trains are becoming death traps

Two deaths, lack of food and water, many unplanned ‘diversions’, the Indian Railways has never been so off track

Shramik TrainImage

This is probably one of the most heartbreaking stories that highlights the conditions of the ‘special’ Shramik trains that have been arranged to take migrant workers back to their homes as they flee their inhospitable workplaces. However, so far, there has been no outrage demaning an inquiry into how a 10-month-old baby died on board a Shramik train in Uttar Pradesh.

No one has asked for a reply from the Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal even as the baby’s family who were travelling on the  Shramik train to UP, that it was the Railways’ apathy that led to the tragedy. According to a report by The Telegraph, the 10-month-old baby boy had fever and was experiencing breathing difficulties on board the train, the family had asked for help from the officials at many stations enroute, including at the halt at Aligarh.

As most railway doctors are now on duty at Covid-19 hospitals, this resulted in the delay of arranging for a doctor provided at Tundla railway station, however, it was too late, the child’s grandfather Dev Lal has been quoted in news reports. The baby’s family has alleged that no one at the  railways arrange for a doctor despite their repeated pleas. “They said any help would be available only in Tundla,” said Lal as quoted by The Tribune.

According to the report, Priyanka Devi, the young  mother from Bihar’s Notan village in West Champaran, had gone to visit her parents in Noida with the baby. They had got stuck there when the lockdown was suddenly announced.

As the Railways suspected that the baby had died of Covid-19 and then took the family to a quarantine centre in Tundla,. This story of state apathy was exposed on Monday when someone else at the quarantine facility leaked the news to local journalists as the child’s mother’s  condition worsened.

One more death, allegedly due to hunger, has been reported from another Shramik Express train headed towards Uttar Pradesh. The Tribune reports on the tragic death of a 46-year-old migrant construction worker, who was  traveling from Mumbai to Jaunpur district in Uttar Pradesh. He died on Saturday, allegedly because no water or food had been provided on the train packed with migrant workers. The Tribune quotes his nephew Raveesh Yadav, who said the victim had not eaten anything in 60 hours.

Yadav told the paper that his uncle who was “complaining of hunger and pain all over his body, fainted half an hour before we reached Varanasi Cantonment and died within a few minutes.” He added that he and his uncle were hungry when they boarded the train but could not find food or water to buy. “We weren’t carrying any food or water because we had heard the railways were providing food packs and water bottles on the trains. Even the other passengers in our compartment had no food or water left with them, so nobody could help us. And there was no water in the train at all,” he told reporters.

From the railways, news reports state that Ravi Prakash Chaturvedi, additional divisional railway manager, Varanasi, has denied that no food or water had been served on the train. “The man died before the train reached Varanasi Cantonment station. The GRP took the body in custody. Family members of the dead man have said he was a heart patient and may have died because of that,” he said.

A bizarre claim indeed as food and water are essentials that the railways had to provide as the migrant workers are undertaking long journeys across the country even as heatwave conditions intensify in parts of northern India. A heart patient when starved and dehydrated is most vulnerable. “Yes, my uncle was a heart patient but he died because he was hungry for more than 60 hours,” his nephew said, adding that they had paid Rs 940 each  for the tickets. The train he said did not stop at any station till Katni, Madhya Pradesh, after 18 hours. The train stood there for three hours but there was no food or water for the migrants to buy at the station.

The new report also states that Raveesh and others had “requested the Government Railway Police and railway officials to provide us water and food. But they ignored us and wouldn’t let us step off the train. The GRP was wielding lathis.”

The ones who have reached their destinations alive, even if hungry and thirsty, are the lucky ones. Multiple reports have stated how the complete confusion and a dangerous lack of coordination and the absence of communication from the Indian railways has put the lakhs of migrant workers at risk. The trains are crowded, with ill maintained, or missing facilities, as alleged by the travellers and yet are the only way the migrants can get home fast. Adding to all that is news of trains not even reaching their intended destinations. It has been reported how A Jaunpur-bound Shramik train from Mumbai, was kept waiting for more than seven hours when it was just 40km from its destination. Railway sources told reporters that  the Jaunpur authorities refused to receive the train saying they had not been informed about its arrival in advance. “We are normally informed two days in advance about such trains so that we can coordinate with the district administration and arrange buses to ferry the passengers to their villages, where they are kept in government quarantine for 14 days,” a railway official told reporters in Jaunpur on condition of anonymity. The train was later sent to Mughalsarai.

The HW news portal has reported that 40 Shramik special trains have ‘lost their way’ even as Railways gets busy with damage control. A train that left for Gorakhpur from Mumbai’s Vasai road and ended up in Odisha’s Rourkela. Railways, however, had clarified that the train did not lose the way and was diverted because of the congestion, reported HW news.

According to Navbharat Times, sources from the railways said that many trains were ‘diverted’. News reports however add that over 40 trains may have changed their route till yesterday. As expected the  Railways says the routes have been ‘changed deliberately’. For example a shramik train headed to Basti in Uttar Pradesh ended up at Ghaziabad station. Another one bound  for Patna from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Mumbai had reached Puruliya. Yet another one left Goa to reach Balia in UP, but ended up at Nagpur in Maharashtra.

News reports have quoted Railway Board Chairman Vinod Kumar Yadav as saying that “around 80% of trains have been reaching Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, because of which there has been a surge in crowding of people. This is the reason why the railways had to change routes of some trains.”

Though no one has explained why this had not been thought of earlier as these are not newly laid train routes. No one has even bothered to explain why water, or food has not been made available to migrant workers who are stranded on these trains for even longer hours than they expected.



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