The Centre on Friday told the Rajya Sabha that 97 people died till September 9 on board the Shramik Special trains, which were run to carry migrant workers to their home states during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. This is the first admission from the Narendra Modi government about the total deaths on board these special trains.

“Based on the data provided by state police, 97 persons have been reported dead till 09.09.2020 while travelling on board Shramik Special trains during current Covid-19 situation/crisis,” Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said in a written reply to Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien’s question in Rajya Sabha.

“The state police registers case under Section 174 [police to enquire and report on suicide, etc] of Code of Criminal Procedure in cases of unnatural deaths and follows further legal process,” Goyal added.

Of the 97 death cases, the state police sent 87 for postmortem analysis. So far, a total of 51 postmortem reports have been received from the state police forces. The cause of deaths in certain cases were noted as cardiac arrest, heart disease, brain hemorrhage, pre-existing chronic disease, the minister said.

On O’Brien’s question about fare on these trains, Goyal said: “Rs 433 crore has been collected from the state governments and from the representatives of the state governments for running them from 01.05.2020 to 31.08.2020.”

Goyal’s reply in the Parliament came four days after the Centre informed the Parliament that it did not have any data on the number of migrant workers who lost their lives during an exodus that was sparked when a countrywide lockdown was suddenly enforced to contain the coronavirus in March. The response was given during the first day of the Monsoon Session in Lok Sabha.

The lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 left lakhs of migrant workers stranded in big cities without work. Hundreds of thousands of them then began long journeys to home on foot, sometimes over distances of more than 1,000 km. Some died on the way due to illness, while others died in road accidents. Some died of exhaustion after walking home in the scorching heat.

Faced with fierce criticism over the migrant crisis, the Centre had launched over 300 Shramik Special trains on May 1. On June 9, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan had directed the Centre and states to identify stranded migrant workers and transport them back to their hometowns within 15 days.

More than 4,611 special trains ferried over 63.07 lakh workers to various destinations in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh and other states, according to the Centre. Food and water was also provided free of cost to the workers during their journey.