Watch the passengers express their satisfaction with Railway services: Rail Minister Piyush Goyal

Railway Protection Force reported 80 deaths on Shramik special trains designated to carry migrant labourers back to their native places

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Even as the Ministry of Railways continues to ‘celebrate’ what it has termed as a successful operation, deaths of workers and labourers travelling in the Shramik Special trains continue to dominate national headlines. Meanwhile, Railway board chairman VK Yadav made an attempt to ‘condole’ the deaths by saying, “Anyone’s death is a big loss… Indian Railways has a control system where the train is immediately stopped if someone is found ill and they are sent to the nearest hospital base to try and save their lives.”

However, the fact remains that people have died while on the packed trains, allegedly without enough food and water on board, and long delays. “Many such passengers were attended to and many deliveries also took place. I can imagine the plight of labourers travelling even in these conditions. In case of deaths, the local zones investigate the reason and without an investigation, there are allegations that they died of hunger when there was no shortage of food. Some deaths occurred and we are compiling the figures… we will issue the figures in a few days,” he added. 

An explosive report in the Hindustan Times has exposed that the Railway  Protection Force itself has reported 80 deaths on these Shramik trains, designated to carry migrant labourers back to their native places. At a press conference on Friday, Railway Board chairman VK Yadav had said, “Out of the total 3840 trains run so far, only 71 trains have been diverted to their destination by diverted route.” He added that these trains will continue to run till the “last labourer reaches his home.”

However, scores will never reach home. As the HT reports states, 80 deaths have been recorded on board the Shramik Special trains between May 9 and May 27. The data is from the Railway Protection Force. The Rail Ministry has maintained that those who died on board, had already been suffering with “chronic diseases” and were stranded when they went to different cities for “medical treatment”. The dead include men, women, and children, whose families have claimed that the victims succumbed to heat exhaustion, thirst and hunger while on these long journeys. 

The Rail Minister Piyush Goyal, however, has only seen many “smiles and happy faces” so far. He posted: “All Smiles & Happy Faces: Following safety protocols and distributing food & water, Railways is committed to ensuring a safe & comfortable journey for all. Watch the passengers express their satisfaction with Railway services while travelling from Chennai to Madhubani in Bihar.”

According to the HT report, the number of dead is confirmed by the RPF, “and a final list will soon be issued after coordinating with the states .” The HT analysis states that: “the deaths were recorded from May 9 till May 27 across several zones including the East Central Railway zone, North Eastern Railway zone, Northern Railway Zone and North Central Railway zone; and the ages of the dead ranged from 4 to 85. The list also mentions the co-morbidities or accidents that caused the deaths in a few cases.”

The Railway ministry’s statements maintains the official line of how it was passengers who were unwell who have succumbed to their chronic illness while on board the Shramik Special trains: “ It has been observed that some people who are availing this service have pre-existing medical conditions which aggravates the risk they face during the Covid-19 pandemic. A few unfortunate cases of deaths related to pre-existing medical conditions while travelling have happened.” 

The Ministry of Railways also issued directives to passengers. Its “appeal” put the onus of safe travel on the labourers undertaking the journey. It states: “In order to protect the vulnerable persons from COVID-19, in line with Ministry of Home Affairs, Order No 40-3/2020-DM-I(A) dated 17.05.2020, Ministry of Railways makes an appeal that persons with co-morbidities (for example – hypertension, diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, immune deficiency conditions), pregnant women, children below the age of 10 years and persons above 65 years of age may avoid travel by rail, except when it is essential.”

While it seems to expect an already distressed and desperate migrant worker to leave their young children or unwell family members behind in the hospitel city they want to escape from, it offers helpline numbers 139 & 138 that can be dialed in case of distress or emergency. 

The Supreme Court has ruled that workers travelling on these special trains must be provided food and water by the states administration, and the  Indian Railways. Many passengers have already said on record that food and water have not been provided by the railways at all. Nor were they able to buy any food at stations where the trains were halted, or diverted to for hours. Most journeys home have taken much longer than they ever thought possible.

And the horrors continue. The Indian Express reported on how a migrant labourer’s body lay unattended on Shramik Special train for four days. It was only discovered when the train was being cleaned at the Jhansi railway yard on May 27. The deceased identified as Mohan Lal Sharma (37), worked as a driver at a factory in Navi Mumbai, was a resident of Basti district in Uttar Pradesh stated IE. He left Mumbai on May 21, on a private bus for Jhansi and then boarded a ‘Shramik Special’ train from Jhansi to Gorakhpur, on May 23. The  ticket found on his body showed the time of departure as 11.40 am. The IE quotes Pankaj Kumar Singh, Chief PRO, North Eastern Railways, confirmed that  the train reached Gorakhpur on May 24, at 4 pm. On normal days the journey takes about 11 hours.

Once empty, it reached Jhansi railway yard on May 27, at 7.30 pm and the body was found inside a toilet in the train when it was being sanitised. The victim’s Aadhaar card identified him as Mohan Lal Sharma, a resident of Basti district,” Jhansi GRP (Government Railway Police) Inspector Anjana Verma told IE.

According to the IE report, Chief PRO, North Central Railway, Ajit Kumar Singh, was asked why the train took so long to reach Gorakhpur, and on its return journey as well. His answer: “During May 23-24, there was congestion on train routes. I can’t give specific details of how long the train was delayed at each station.”

So far, there has been no information of any Railway officials being held accountable for the deaths of  those 80 migrant labourers.



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