Maharashtra, Bengal vs Railways over Shramik trains

Maharashtra, West Bengal target Railways over Shramik trains for migrants; Ministry says onus on states to coordinate

Migrants waves through windows after arriving by a special train from Mumbai at Howrah station, during the ongoing nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, in Kolkata. (PTI Photo)

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday jumped right into the ongoing political feud between the Railways Ministry and the Maharashtra government as the two bickered over the operations of the Shramik Special trains.

Banerjee sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention in the alleged "whimsical" functioning of the Railways in sending Shramik Special trains to West Bengal.

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She urged the Centre not to pursue politics when the state was battling a dual crisis of COVID-19 pandemic and trail of destruction left behind by Cyclone Amphan.

Shiv Sena leader Anil Parab also hit back at Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, saying he had sent the trains in one go instead of the demand made by the Maharashtra government to operate them in a staggered manner.

The Railways, however, said no trains were being "planned" by the national transporter and it was only operationalising the trains that had been asked for by the states.

"The railways was given a demand with details such as the number of passengers, originating and destination points. All the related coordination is being done by the state governments," it said.

CORONAVIRUS SPECIAL COVERAGE ONLY ON DH

"The railways is a medium providing service by arranging rakes based on the request from these states," it said.

Around 41 trains were to leave for West Bengal on May 26, but only 10 had departed. So far, 35 trains have terminated in Bengal, 22 are in transit and three more are in the pipeline, according to the Railways data.

Earlier, Goyal and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackaray had been involved in a slugfest over these trains.

The Railways said the train schedule were finalised based on the requirement given by the originating State (Maharashtra in this case) and the same are communicated to the destination to the destination railway stations.

Officials said while the Railways was ready to run around 100 trains, 26 departed from Mumbai on Wednesday.

Read: Coronavirus India update: State-wise total number of confirmed cases, deaths on May 28

As many as 145 trains were scheduled to depart from Maharashtra on May 26, but most could not due to lack of passengers. So far, 677 trains have originated from the state, it said.

Banerjee alleged that the state's infrastructure was "stretched to its limit" after Cyclone Amphan, and it can receive very few trains carrying migrant workers back on a daily basis as of now, she said.

The state considers ferrying of a large number of migrant workers by the Railways as a big problem for public health. The pressure should be "optimal and well managed", Banerjee said.

"The state government is facing a dual crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. Our infrastructure is completely stretched.

The Railways is sending Shramik Special trains to the state everyday according to its whims and fancies without even bothering to inform us," she said.

"Where will we keep these migrant labourers for institutional quarantine?" she asked. "This is not the time for politics. We are facing a very tough situation and we need time and space to tackle it."

The comments came ahead of the slated arrival of 11 Shramik Special trains in the state in the evening.

"They can disturb me politically, but why are they causing harm to the state?" Banerjee said, as she hit out at the BJP. "West Bengal is facing such a major disaster. It will lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Who will take the responsibility then?"

"I request the prime minister and Union home minister to look into the matter so that there is no spike in COVID-19 cases in the state. The prime minister should intervene," the TMC leader said.

The TMC government had asked the Railways Ministry not to send Shramik Special trains to the state till May 26 in view of the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. However, a total of 41 such trains are scheduled to arrive in the city this week.

Banerjee said she got to know only on Tuesday that many trains were coming from Maharashtra.

"I myself spoke to the Maharashtra government and they said they were informed of it at 2'o clock the night before. Had the Centre drawn up a plan with us, the Railways ministry consulted us, it would have been better," Banerjee said.

A senior railway official said that "it's the Maharashtra government and the West Bengal government which needs to coordinate. It is not a railway matter."

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