Nearly 350 Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel and over 100 state government and some 200 railway staff were involved in arranging the first Shramik Special train carrying 1,050 migrants that departed from New Delhi to Madhya Pradesh late Thursday evening.
The New Delhi railway station is the second busiest in the country with a daily footfall of over 500,000 in normal times, but this was different. For both passengers and railway staff, the train to Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh meant a completely new protocol.
No one except those with valid passes and tickets were allowed entry into the station, which has two entrances from Paharganj and Ajmeri Gate sides. Roads were blocked almost half a kilometre before the Paharganj entry. By around 5.30 pm, buses carrying migrant labourers started arriving at the station. A team of RPF constables lined up on both sides of the path that led the commuters from bus to the railway platform.
“We are around 350 RPF officials, besides another 200-odd railways staff here. Our job is to ensure social distancing among those brought by the Delhi government in buses till they reach Chhatarpur,” said a senior RPF official. Buses with 15-17 people each were lining up at the station with railway staff guiding them to their designated coaches. The passengers stood in marked areas to maintain distance, while railway staff checked tickets and medical certificates.
Not more than 50 people were allowed in each of the 24 coaches of the train, which non-stop for passengers but will stop for change of loco pilot and guards at Agra, said one railway official on condition of anonymity.
One of the passengers from Burari in the Central Delhi district told Business Standard that they were informed about the journey only a day before and were happy that they were headed home rather than being without jobs in Delhi. Before he could reveal his name, the bus started moving further away to the entry point.
A senior official from the state revenue department, who was present at the station, explained the 48-hour-long saga of how the state government managed the operations through videoconferencing and social media groups. “The decision to run the train was taken almost two days ago. Since then operations took place on a war-footing, with assistant district magistrates in each district becoming the nodal officers for shortlisting the people,” he said.
A majority of the labourers were shortlisted from shelter homes located in the 11 districts of Delhi. The ADMs were tasked with selecting passengers from these shelters by Wednesday morning, from their data bank. After that, the migrants were transported to designated centres in each district, where medical check-ups were conducted from 7.30 pm on Wednesday to 9 am on Thursday. By then, the Indian Railways handed over around 1,100 tickets to state authorities.
The Railways is bearing 85 per cent of the fare, while the Delhi government is bearing the remaining 15 per cent. However, a state government official clarified that for Thursday’s train, the Madhya Pradesh government was paying the entire 15 per cent. The Railways’ cost differs according to the train, but on an average running a single trains costs around Rs 2.5-7 lakh. The Delhi government will meet the running cost of another train scheduled from New Delhi to Bihar on Friday.
From the Delhi government’s side, PK Gupta, principal secretary in the Social Welfare Department, was the nodal officer for the movement of migrants, while from the Madhya Pradesh government another bureaucrat Nikhil Kumar was in charge.
“Transportation of migrants was a herculean task. The state government also ensured that they were given lunch and provided dinner packets, snacks and water for the journey,” the state government official added.
From May 1, the central government has operated 201 Shramik Special trains. The trains transport workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places in the country because of the lockdown.
As people boarded the train to Chhatarpur, officials clapped and chanted “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” while passengers heaved a sigh of relief.