Editorial

Chaotic rail journeys of migrants, a colossal management failure

| Updated on May 31, 2020 Published on May 31, 2020

The Railways, which can act like the armed forces in an emergency, should have worked as a nodal agency, treating the situation as a relief mission

The Centre must accept responsibility for the misery heaped on millions of migrant workers during their train journeys back home, largely to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal. Workers, already distraught after losing their jobs, with no money to fall back on and fearful of contracting Covid-19, were fleeing by foot in the searing sun, till the Railways decided to run Shramik Special trains on May 1. But that has only led to another round of chaos, in which neither the central ministries, the States and the Railways has distinguished itself. Workers have been transported like cattle, many perishing on the way, as they went for hours and days without food and water. The Railway Board Chairman said on Friday that of the 3,840 trains that have run since May 1, transporting 52 lakh workers, only 71 trains were diverted and four inordinately delayed. The delays and re-routing, he said, occurred only between May 20 and May 24, when the demand for trains from the ‘sending’ States peaked, clogging rail lines to select destinations in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Even if we take these numbers at face value, the number of affected passengers is well over a lakh. But reports suggest that lapses in terms of delays and non-availability of food and water were widespread over more trains as well as days. While the Supreme Court has directed the Centre to transport migrants for free and provide them food and water, the authorities have much to account for.

There has been an abysmal lack of coordination between the Centre and its departments, the States and the Railways. This is borne out by gross mismanagement in the running of the trains and the row over who would foot the workers’ train fare. At the outset, the special trains could have been run much earlier, before the lockdown came into effect. With the pandemic being less widespread in March than at present, transporting the migrants would have been a smoother affair.

The Railways, which can act like the armed forces in an emergency, should have worked as a nodal agency, treating the situation as a relief mission. It has instead chosen to act as a passive transporter acting on the behest of ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ States. It is also a fact that some receiving States have erred; possibly fearful of dealing with Covid cases, they were not keen on receiving the trains. As a result, some trains hurtled along from division to division; with no time table or even a route map, food and water became difficult for the Railways to organise. The political leadership at the Centre and States has been busy blaming each other for these lapses, instead of forming an apex coordination body to deal with the situation. Such cynicism must stop.

Published on May 31, 2020
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