The voluntary janata curfew called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was, in effect, extended by the Centre on Sunday. It announced a week-long lockdown in as many as 80 districts of the country that have reported confirmed cases of coronavirus.
For the first time in its 167-year-old history, the Indian Railways cancelled all services of passenger trains, including suburban ones, till March 31. The nearest equivalent of this was the 54-day railway strike in 1974, when trains did not run in the country. The railways, however, said goods trains would run. Around 12,500 trains, including 9,000 passenger trains and 3,500 mail express trains, run daily.
Besides, the Central government asked states to suspend inter-state transport. The decision was taken in a high-level meeting of chief secretaries of all states with the Cabinet secretary and the principal secretary to the PM, on Sunday.
All metro rail services, too, would be suspended till March 31.
In Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a lockdown — sealing its borders, shutting down markets and directing private firms to give compulsory paid leave to all employees, including contractual — until the end of March. Beyond the 80 districts, states, including Maharashtra, which is leading in the number of coronavirus cases, Rajasthan and Punjab are now under effective statewide lockdowns after they imposed Section 144 that bars gatherings of more than four people.
Indian railways on Sunday suspended operation of passenger trains till March 31. Photo: Dalip Kumar
India reported three coronavirus deaths on Sunday, including the first casualties from Bihar and Gujarat, taking the toll to seven, even as authorities took unprecedented steps to contain the spread of the virus. The number of positive COVID-19 cases rose to 396.
Those affected by the railways order on Sunday include premium trains, mail/express, passenger trains, suburban train services, Kolkata Metro, and the Konkan Railway services. However, bare minimum services will be provided in suburban trains and Kolkata Metro, till late Sunday.
Full refunds for all cancelled trains can be taken till June 21. The railways, as a special case, relaxed refund rules for tickets generated at reservation counters. According to the guidelines, if a train runs but a passenger does not want to travel, ticket deposit receipt can be filed within three months of the date of journey at the station instead of the existing rule of three days.
The extraordinary decisions were taken a day after the Railways reported three incidents (12 positive cases) of people asked to remain in quarantine travelling on trains and amid an exodus of people from urban areas to their home states, raising fears of the virus spreading to the countryside. "I don't think the railways' decision will have any major financial implications because passenger traffic is running in losses, subsidised by revenue from freight operations," said V N Mathur, former member (traffic) of the Railway Board.
A man walks past closed shops in the wake of deadly coronavirus.
Of the three deaths reported on Sunday, a 38-year-old man who had recently traveled to Qatar, died of renal failure at Patna's All India Institute of Medical Sciences. In Maharashtra, a 63-year-old man admitted to a private hospital in Mumbai died this morning. In Gujarat, a 69-year-old man died at a hospital in Surat.
Over 80 districts under lockdown
1 (district): Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Puducherry, Uttarakhand
2 (districts): J&K, UT of Ladakh, West Bengal
3 (districts): Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu
4 (districts): Rajasthan
5 (districts): Haryana, Karnataka, Telangana
6 (districts): Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat
7 (districts): Delhi
10 (districts): Kerala, Maharashtra