Indian Railways on Friday said that there was no plan to curtail train services as reports emerged that hundreds of migrant workers in Delhi and Mumbai were crowding railway stations to return home, PTI reported. They reportedly wanted to return to their native places as a record surge in coronavirus cases spurred new restrictions and fears of an impending lockdown.
Railway Board chairperson Suneet Sharma assured passengers that there was no shortage of trains. “We will run as many services as required,” he said at a press conference. “There is no cause for alarm. We can run trains immediately on demand if there is any rush. This rush is normal during the summer season and we have already announced trains to clear the rush.”
Sharma also said that passengers do not require negative coronavirus test certificates to travel by trains. He clarified that there was no communication yet from Maharashtra to curtail movement of trains amid a massive increase in daily cases.
Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Railways denied reports of mass movement of people due to the looming threat of a lockdown. It claimed that some old videos showing crowding at railway stations were being circulated on social media and urged people not to believe in such rumours.
However, some reports showed visuals of migrant workers flocking to railway and bus stations.
The visuals evoked memories of the lockdown imposed by the Narendra Modi government on March 24 last year to rein in the pandemic. The lockdown lasted for nine weeks, and was then either partially or fully extended in different parts of the country. Though the Indian lockdown was considered the most severe in the world, India currently is the third-worst country in the world in terms of the number of infections and the fourth-worst in terms of the number of deaths.
The restrictions effectively put the entire population at home for all but essential items like groceries or medicines. But the world’s largest lockdown turned into a humanitarian crisis for India’s workforce. Tens of thousands of people walked on foot back to their homes. Some died on the way due to illness, while others were killed in road accidents. Many died of exhaustion after walking home in the scorching heat.
As India continues to record an average of more than 90,000 cases daily from April 1, workers say they they are unwilling to take the chance this time. However, the central government has so far decided against imposing a nationwide lockdown to contain the latest surge but has asked states to decide on imposing local restrictions.