The Centre on Wednesday informed the Rajya Sabha that there were no complaints about migrant workers facing “inhuman conditions” on board the Shramik Special trains, but added that there were more than 3,000 grievances related to basic amenities such as food and water, sanitation, hygiene, and electricity on trains, PTI reported.
In a written reply in the Upper House, Minister for Railways Piyush Goyal said the complaints were being dealt with by the concerned departments.
“No complaints on inhuman conditions in Shramik Specials were received,” the minister said in his response. “However, 3,081 complaints were received on issues like Catering (2,227) and Others (855) including, punctuality, train cleaning & watering, and electricity. Appropriate action was taken by respective Departments to resolve these complaints.”
When the lockdown was suddenly enforced in March, migrant workers were forced to return to their homes on foot, causing a public outcry. It was only later that the Centre launched over 300 “Shramik special” trains. But because of the convoluted procedure to register for these trains, thousands of workers continued to take to the roads to walk, cycle or attempt dangerous journeys in trucks back home.
Amid this, multiple reports emerged of how the Indian Railways had mismanaged the movement of these trains that were often in squalid conditions, leading to delays stretching on for days, with passengers going hungry and without water in soaring temperatures. Many died on their way.
In his response, Goyal said the Railways have pegged the number of deaths on board these trains at 97. Of these, bodies of 87 people were sent for post mortem by the state police.
Goyal added that 51 post mortem reports have been obtained from the respective states’ police so far, in which the reasons for deaths vary from cardiac arrest, heart disease, brain hemorrhage, pre-existing chronic disease to chronic lung disease and chronic liver disease.
When asked whether any compensation was paid to the families of those who died during the journey, Goyal informed Parliament that any such compensation is paid by the Railways, after the decision of the Railway Claims Tribunal. The tribunal gives its decision on compensation claim application filed by the victims or their dependents.
However, Goyal added that as such, no compensation has been paid so far, because no claims for compensation have been filed in any of the Railway Claims Tribunal.
The railways minister said that presently, the government offers a compensation of Rs 8 lakh in case of death and a relief of Rs 64,000 to Rs 8 lakh in case of injuries, depending on the nature and type of wound sustained by the passenger.
Between May 1 and August 31 this year, the Railways operated 4,621 Shramik Special trains and carried 63.19 lakh stranded workers to their respective home states during the coronavirus-induced lockdown, the response added.
The Indian Railways also supplied 1.96 crore meals and 2.19 crore packaged drinking water bottles to passengers. Further, about 46.2 lakh meals and water bottles were also provided by state governments to these passengers at the time of commencement of the special trains.
On September 14, the first day of the Parliament proceedings that began for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown was announced, the Centre informed the House that there was no data available on the number of migrant workers who lost their lives during the exodus. The next day, the Ministry of Home Affairs told the House that the migrant crisis was roused by “fake news” circulating in the media that triggered “panic” among workers.