The first train carrying some 1,200 migrant workers from Kerala to Bhubaneswar, in Odisha, has started from Aluva near Ernakulam on Friday night. Several hundreds of migrants from Perumbavur, which is the hub of such workers in the State, have lined up in queues without following the social distancing norms to register for the journey.
An official from Indian Railways said that the train carrying the migrant workers, left Aluva at 21:55 hrs. The Union Ministry of Railways has announced that it is running Shramik Special trains from Labour Day, on Friday, to move migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded in different places due to the lockdown. The first special train under the programme took migrant workers from Telengana to Jharkhand on Friday evening.
The State government said that the relevant authorities were prepared to organise such a trip and had swung into action after receiving the order from the Ministry of Home Affairs. There are 360,000 guest workers staying in 20,826 camps at present. Most want to go back to their hometowns. Most of them are from Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Bihar and UP.
State Minister for Revenue and Housing, E Chandrasekharan, told Business Standard that as per the Central government's order, around 1,200 guest workers will be sent to Odisha by train on Friday evening itself.
The state government has earlier urged the Centre to allow special non-stop trains to various States for migrant workers who want to head back to their hometown in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown. There are around 2,000 camps arranged for these guest workers, as Kerala calls them, in Eranakulam. The representatives of various departments such as revenue, police, health and local self government are present at Ernakulam to take care of their arrangements.
With the train to Bhubaneswar having been allowed, 100 members from 12 camps were selected based on various criteria. They have undergone health check-ups ahead of the journey. Priority has been given to workers with families and the elderly. The workers have been made aware of the decision and the criteria in a language they understand.
"This is the first train carrying workers who want to go to Odisha. There will be more trains in the coming days to take the others too," Chandrasekharan said, adding that the State authorities have been preparing the procedure and were ready for action when the order came on Friday.
As per the arrangement, the train with 20 compartments will have 60 individuals sharing a bogie and social distancing and sanitisation norms will be strictly implemented during the journey. Movement from one bogie to another during the journey will not be allowed and the passengers will have to wear face masks. The train fare will be borne by the workers, who after registering with the authorities with proper identification and health check, will be taken to Aluva railway station in State transport buses.
The government has taken measures to fill 6,000 litres of water in the train, and provide cooked food for today. Discussions are on regarding arranging food for the remaining days of journey.
The State government had earlier earlier requested the Prime Minister for a special non-stop train to carry the guest workers back home. But when the Centre mooted the idea of arranging buses, the State reiterated its demand for non-stop trains.
"Taking so many people by bus over such a long distance would be difficult. Chances that the disease will spread will also rie in such a case," Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Thursday while speaking to reporters. The healthcare group in Railways can test them, if trains are arranged.
It would also be easy to make water and food available in trains -- something that the State government has brought to Centre's notice.
Not all the guest who want to go back can travel on the same day, Chandrasekharan said. Those who are in a hurry to head back home but aren't included in the first lot could create a stir. The police has been asked to prepare for such an eventuality, Chandrasekharan added.