OVER SEVEN lakh people took a train to states in the north, east and north east India from Mumbai and neighbouring districts in April as the state started implementing curbs, which gradually escalated into a de facto lockdown, to rein in the surge in Covid-19 cases, data shared by the Central and Western Railway has revealed.
A significant fraction of the travellers is believed to have comprised migrant labourers, making their way back to their hometowns.
The Central and Western Railway increased the number of special trains to these states in order to meet the increase in demand.
Around 7.41 lakh passengers travelled to north, east and north east states in trains run by Central and Western Railway in April this year as restrictions were escalated through the month to tackle the massive second wave of the pandemic, officials said.
The number is much higher than 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, when 4.9 lakh passengers travelled by trains in the same month.
The additional 2.5 lakh passengers this year may have been migrant labourers, officials said even as they stressed that they can’t declare the same with certainty as the department has no way of categorising the passengers.
The Labour department, though, indicated that the rush in the trains was due to migrants returning home on account of the lockdown-like restrictions.
“After the lockdown was announced, our department conducted a survey of around 5,000 people at CSMT, LTT and Bandra stations and randomly asked passengers why they were heading back to their villages and if they needed any help. Around 10 to 12 per cent of them said they were going back purely due to the lockdown. These people were from the unorganised sector who lost work because of the lockdown. A majority of them, though, was heading back due to some personal work and their journey was pre-planned. Also, this time there was no panic as the trains were available and additional trains were being added as per requirement,” said Shirin Lokhande, additional commissioner of Labour, Konkan division, Maharashtra Labour department.
In 2020, as part of the hard lockdown to tackle the first cases of Covid-19, Railways had stopped movement of trains, as a result of which several migrants were seen making their way back to their hometowns on foot.
According to the Central Railway, around 253 special long-distance trains carrying approximately 3.80 lakh passengers travelled to districts in north and upwards from Mumbai, Pune and Solapur region in April. These trains left for places like Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Jaunpur, Azamgarh and Prayagraj (in Uttar Pradesh), Chhapra and Patna (in Bihar), Asansol (in West Bengal) and Guwahati (in Assam).
In the same period in 2019, 160 special long-distance trains had left for these places carrying approximately 3 lakh people.
A Central Railway official, requesting anonymity, told The Indian Express, “Apart from these special trains, we also ran 20-odd regular trains like every year. The frequency of these regular trains too increased slightly as compared to 2019. We saw a rush on April 13, 14, and 15 soon after the lockdown was announced. Since then, rush has not been observed. Unlike this year, in 2019 passengers with unreserved tickets were allowed to travel. But this year, only those with reserved tickets are allowed to board.”
According to Western Railway, in April, around 161 trains originating from Mumbai left for UP, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and West Bengal, carrying 3.14 lakh passengers. In the same period in 2019, 102 trains left for these states with 1.90 lakh passengers on board.