The Ministry of Home Affairs on Friday afternoon allowed movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and “other persons” by special trains to be operated by the Ministry of Railways amid the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Subsequently, the railway ministry issued a slew of regulations meant to ensure travel without the risk of infection.

A special train carrying 1,200 migrant workers left from Lingampally in Telangana to Hatia in Jharkhand on Friday morning, but it was the sole train allowed to operate at that time. The lockdown will end on May 3.

The Ministry of Railways said that “Shramik Special” trains would be run from Friday, May 1, which is International Workers’ Day, PTI reported. “Special trains will run from point to point on request of both state governments as per protocols for sending and receiving stranded persons,” it added.

The railway ministry said state authorities must screen passengers at boarding points. Only those found negative for Covid-19 should be allowed to board the trains.

The ministry said that it will be mandatory for passengers to cover their faces. State authorities have been tasked with providing them meals and drinking water at originating stations. “Boarding states will have to bring people in batches to designated stations in sanitised buses, following social-distancing norms,” the ministry’s statement said.

The home ministry said that the Ministry of Railways will designate nodal officers to coordinate with states and Union Territories for the movement of trains.

The governments of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Kerala have also urged the Centre to deploy special trains to transport stranded migrants home. In its order on Wednesday, the Centre had said those stranded can be allowed to move only after states consult with each other and agree on the movement by road.

Tribulations of migrant labourers

Struggling to make ends meet amid the lockdown, lakhs of migrant workers have demanded permission to go back to their hometowns. Many have attempted to travel home on foot, but have been stopped due to the closure of state borders. Some have died on the way.

On Wednesday, hundreds of migrant workers employed at a construction site on the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad campus attacked officials of the construction companies, demanding wages and permission to go home. A day earlier, workers in Gujarat’s Surat city vandalised the office of a construction site after the contractors allegedly brought in more labourers from other parts of the state to speed up the work. Last month, thousands of migrant workers had gathered in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb to protest, demanding transportation arrangements to go back to their hometowns.

India had by Friday morning reported 35,043 cases of Covid-19, including 1,147 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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