As the Centre pushed to operate more ‘Shramik Special’ trains for stranded migrant workers, the Bihar government said on Tuesday that it would bring back over 20 lakh migrants, in about 800 trains, over the next few days.
“From now on, 100 specials trains will run daily to bring back migrants to Bihar. After an agreement between Bihar and the Central government, altogether 800 trains will operate to bring back over 20 lakh migrants,” Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi tweeted.
Since the beginning of the lockdown, over 8 lakh migrant workers have returned to Bihar. State government officials have said they don’t have adequate facilities for testing or quarantining such huge numbers.
Earlier in the day, the Centre made it clear that the consent of states and Union territories (UTs) would no longer be required for running the Shramik Specials.
The Railways also announced that 200 regular non-AC trains would operate daily from June 1, as per the timetable. While the routes are still being finalised, it is likely that these trains will run between cities with large migrant populations such as Surat, Ahmedabad, Delhi, and Hyderabad, and states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which are home to most of these migrant workers.
When the Shramik Specials started on May 1, the guidelines said they would operate at the “request”, and with the “consent”, of the “receiving state”, and there would be no stops in between.
But in its new SOPs (standard operating procedures) sent to the states, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has said the “movement of Shramik Special trains shall be permitted by Ministry of Railways in consultation with Ministry of Home Affairs”. The train schedule, including stops and destinations, shall be finalised by the Ministry of Railways, “based on the requirements of states/ UTs”.
The role of the states and UTs has been limited to designating nodal authorities and making arrangements for receiving or sending the migrant workers.
The decision comes in the backdrop of the Centre’s allegation that some Opposition-ruled states were not allowing more trains to run.
“Within the next two days, Indian Railways will double the number of Shramik Special Trains to 400 per day. All migrants are requested to stay where they are, Indian Railways will get them back home over the next few days,” Railway Minister Piyush Goyal tweeted at night.
The Railways said it has run over 1,600 Shramik Specials so far – Uttar Pradesh received the most trains, and Gujarat sent out the most.
The Centre’s decision is likely to precipitate a new flashpoint with the states, as many of them are struggling with the influx of migrants – many from orange or red zones in cities.
Sources said the decision follows a meeting between Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and Railway Board Chairman V K Yadav on Monday.
Denying that the states had no role in the process now, an MHA official said: “Without active coordination between sending and receiving states and with Railways, how can this set-up function? States have to proactively requisition trains, based on inputs from district authorities. Only then, Railways can allocate more trains. Moreover, sending and receiving states have to agree among themselves how many people they can send and receive.”
But a Ministry of Railways official said the understanding was that the MHA would just have to be “intimated” about the running of the trains. “This will enable us to scale up our operations of the Shramik trains significantly,” the official said.
Sources said Delhi may become the next biggest hub for sending out migrant workers in trains, after Gujarat and Maharashtra. On Tuesday, 27 trains left for UP and Bihar from the National Capital Region; officials estimated that the number may increase to around 50 trains daily.