Railways would have taken a week and ₹3000 crore to send all migrant workers home

The tragedy on Friday morning, when a goods train ran over some migrants walking back home from Jalna and had dozed off on the track, could have been averted if trains had been used to transport them

After Aurangabad train tragedy: Rotis the migrants were carrying for their journey, lying on the track (Photo courtesy- social media)
After Aurangabad train tragedy: Rotis the migrants were carrying for their journey, lying on the track (Photo courtesy- social media)
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Uttam Sengupta

The workers should have been in a train and not walking on the railway track. They had set off from Jalna and wanted to reach Bhusawal 150 Kms away, where they were told they could find some transport to return home. They had walked barely 40 kilometers before they decided to take some rest and dozed off on the track.

Even on the 45th day of the lockdown, migrant workers are walking, cycling and hitching rides in cement mixers and trucks in a bid to reach home. But Indian Railways has not been allowed by the Government to run special trains for a week, which many experts believe would have been enough to send all migrants home.

An IIT, Mumbai alumnus and Maths teacher points out that the mighty Indian Railways carried 23 million passengers every day before the lockdown.

It would have taken the Railways between four days and a week to transport all the migrant workers struck in various parts of the country to their home states, says Arun Roy, the IIT alumnus. And he goes on to calculate that the entire operation would have cost the Railways just Rupees three thousand Crore. He cites the money collected by the PM CARES fund in less than a month, an estimated 15 thousand Crore, to provide a perspective.

While the PMO and the Railways have maintained a studied silence on the question, the clamour for using the PM CARES funds to transport migrant labour does not appear unreasonable.

Another calculation provides a different perspective. A train carrying 12 coaches and 1,200 passengers at an average fare of Rs 1,200 per head, would cost just Rs 1.44 Crore, which is 50 to 100 times less than what is estimated to have been spent on the grand Namaste Trump event in Ahmedabad in February. Considering that each of the deceased in the Vizag gas leak has been offered a compensation of one Crore. In other words, the entire compensation announced for gas leak victims by Andhra Pradesh government would have paid for 11 trains for migrants.

Cleary, paucity of funds did not come in the way of running trains for migrants. And had the Railways operated trains for a week, the terrible tragedy of a goods train mowing down 17 migrant workers this morning at Karmad(Aurangabad) could have been averted.

What is more, with goods trains running across the country, and Indian Railways having boasted of having converted 50,000 coaches as quarantine centres, it would have been easy for the Railways to operate limited number of point-to-point passenger trains. The operating staff manning signals and stations have been reporting for duty. But with no clarity from the Centre on who would foot the bill, no decision was taken.

The tragedy is compounded by reports that the stranded workers had been paying between two to three thousand Rupees each to truck drivers willing to give them a ride. Desperate migrant workers were found inside a cement mixing drum on a truck at Indore heading towards Uttar Pradesh. A group of migrant workers from Jharkhand spent the last of their savings on buying bicycles and set off for home from Navi Mumbai. Several trucks have been intercepted during the past one week, transporting migrant workers who had paid two to three thousand Rupees to the drivers.

With movement of goods and trucks now allowed, some of the truck drivers have found it even more lucrative to transport the stranded labourers.

The victims of this morning’s accident in Aurangabad (Maharashtra) had set off from Jalna, where they had worked for a private firm, and had walked just 40 kilometres through the night when they halted to take rest. Most of them sat down on the track or lay down to rest with no intention to sleep, claimed survivors in the group who were a short distance away from the track. All of them had dozed off and before they woke up, the empty goods train had run over them.

Even in death, these workers heading back to Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, are being blamed for carelessness. It was foolish of them to lie down on the track and that is why the compensation announced for the dead migrants is just five lakh Rupees each in contrast to one Crore announced for the Vizag gas victims.

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