Nearly 60,000 people — all involved in the essential service sector — travelled on Mumbai’s suburban trains on Monday after both Central and Western Railway resumed their operations for the first time since March 23.
A total of 362 services that operated on Monday were expected to ferry 1.25 lakh employees. However, confusion at railway stations on the first day of operations, along with many essential service workers being turned away from outside the station by police personnel, saw a reduced number of people commuting on the trains.
Many from private hospitals, national banks and other government employees were felt fuming after not being allowed a little clarity over who all constituted essential service workers.
There was low turnout of passengers for the morning services, as many government employees were unaware about the resumption of services. The 10 trains that left from Karjat between 5 am to 9 am averaged not more than 10 passengers each.
Until 10 am, there were very few who had come to the stations and most of whom took the trains were returning from night duty.
But the passenger flow increased in the second half of the day with several employees taking the trains for their journey back home. Between 4 pm to 6 pm, there was a long queue outside CSMT and at Churchgate.
The rail authorities operated 200 trains on Central Railway (CR) and 162 on Western Railway (WR) for an estimated 1.25 lakh people by allowing about 700 commuters in each coach against its capacity to accommodate 1,200. According to the data released by the Railways at 6 pm, 12,000 people used the trains on CR and another 10,000 traveled on WR.
Pramod Deshmukh, who is employed as a security personnel with Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) at Thane, learnt of the services resuming only after spotting local trains running in the morning. “Our depot is nearby, we spotted the trains and then came here to ask if we would be allowed,” said Deshmukh, a resident of Murbad. He added that he was happy that services had resumed, as over the last few months, he had to spend over three hours one way trying to commute from his home to his place of work.
Security at most of the stations had been beefed up to ensure that only eligible people were allowed to enter the premises. The station premises were cordoned off with ropes to block its multiple exit and entry points with deployment of 3,000 personnel from the Government Railway Police (GRP) and 2,000 from the Railway Protection Force (RPF).
The police personnel only allowed essential service workers with government identity cards and those in the private healthcare sector to board. However, on Sunday, the state government had said that private as well as government officials involved in essential services and healthcare workers identified by the state and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) would be allowed to avail the services.
Once inside, commuters were on Monday asked to show their identity cards again to buy tickets at the booking counters.
Lack of clarity on who all came under the ambit of essential services resulted in many workers getting turned away from the station, including those from the banking sectors and even some involved in private essential services.
The police personnel maintained that employees from nationalised banks were allowed but not those from private banks.
Atul Lokhande, who works in Jaslok Hospital, was denied entry at Kalyan station. “I checked at the booking window and the person said a ticket will be issued. But the police did not allow this saying that the services are not for private hospital employees but only for those in government hospitals.”
The police personnel deployed at Kalyan said that they have been told to allow all government employees but none of the private staffers, even those from hospitals.
Also, many who were allowed to board from one station in the morning but were stopped in the evening while returning home. Ponraj Thiraviyam (59), who works with the Mumbai Port Trust, was allowed to board a train from Kalyan station in the morning and even issued a season ticket to reach CSMT. But when he reached CSMT station at 6 pm, he was stopped. “I showed them the pass I was issued in the morning from Kalyan. But I was not allowed to board a train,” said Thiraviyam.
When contacted, GRP Commissioner Ravindra Sengaokar said further clarity is needed on who are essential service workers. “We have written to the state government to give clear instructions if employees in private hospitals, banks and postal service are allowed to travel,” he added.
The passengers are expected to be allowed to buy tickets with the help of their identity cards over the next 10 days, until an e-pass system equipped with a QR scanner is developed. The Mumbai Police has been asked to set up a portal for registration of essential workers and issuing passes with BMC working as the nodal agency.
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