After sending a written communication to the Railways that it had no objection to running special train services from Mumbai to Konkan for Ganesh Chaturthi, the Shiv Sena-led government appears to have baulked at the possible fall out of permitting large scale movement of people at a time when Covid-19 cases have been rising in the state, and has lobbed the ball back into the Centre’s court.
State Transport Minister Anil Parab told The Indian Express on Wednesday that it is up to the Railways to start the services, as the state government has already given an in-principle approval to run the trains.
“Last week, we have given in writing to the Railways to start trains for Konkan. And we want the Railways to run the trains. Once we have given a go ahead in writing, the Railways should schedule and run the trains. There is no hurdle from the government,” said Parab when asked why the government had not given the final green light, which the Railways said was necessary to begin accepting ticket bookings.
On August 7, in response to a query from the Central Railway, the Maharashtra government had sent it a letter, stating that it had no opposition to permitting inter-district special trains travel as an exception for Ganesh Chaturthi, which begins on August 22.
In previous years, hundreds and thousands of people have travelled for the festivities to their home districts, especially those who belong to the Konkan region, a Shiv Sena stronghold.
The Railways had planned 194 trains between August 11 to September 5. But sources in the Railways said it received verbal communication from the top echelons of the state bureaucracy to keep the initiative on hold, and then received no further communication to start the service.
Since the start of August, Maharashtra has seen 1.26 lakh Covid-19 cases, which is 23 per cent of the state’s total 5.48 lakh cases.
As per sources, district administrations in Konkan had concerns over permitting a large scale influx of people from hotspots like Mumbai and Thane, which could lead to a further deterioration of the situation in these areas.
At the same time, Sena, which has a huge support base in Konkan, does not want to be blamed for not allowing the trains.
However, with the adversarial relations between BJP and Sena now in high gear, a senior Sena leader said the Railways was trying to “politicise” the issue like it did at the time of operating trains for migrant workers.
“A similar thing had happened in May and June when the state had requested the Railways to start trains for migrant workers. The trains were either scheduled at odd hours, giving less time for making arrangements, or many of them at one time. It seems that an attempt is being made to create an atmosphere of suspicion about Shiv Sena among the people of Konkan,” the leader added.
In May, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal had engaged in a war of words over the running of the Shramik special trains, with the Sena chief accusing the Railways of not providing enough trains to the state despite demand, and the Union minister accusing the state of not being efficient enough to provide passenger details on time, forcing the Railways to operate empty trains out of Maharashtra.
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