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Thursday, May 28, 2020

At Pune station: Anxious passengers, long queues and ‘check-up’ desks for escaping COVID-19 patients

Railway officers said based on the crowd on Saturday, they will take a decision on whether to operate extra trains on Sunday, when the country is scheduled to observe a ‘Janata Curfew’, as per an appeal made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Written by Atikh Rashid | Pune | Published: March 21, 2020 10:30:20 pm
People thronged inter-city stations in Pune and Mumbai, lining up at ticket counters and gathering on platforms as they waited for trains to take them home. (Express photo/Arul Horizon)

The stream of immigrants leaving Pune city continued on Saturday, with Pune Division of Central Railway operating four extra trains to various destinations in north and east India on Saturday to accommodate the increased flow of passengers.

Railway officers said based on the crowd on Saturday, they will take a decision on whether to operate extra trains on Sunday, when the country is scheduled to observe a ‘Janata Curfew’, as per an appeal made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

With retail shops, restaurants, automobile industries and other manufacturing firms shutting shop due to government advisories, thousands of unskilled and semi-skilled labourers in the unorganised sector have been leaving the city. The exodus is prompted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) scare, as well as lack of income opportunities, with most businesses and industries shutting down.

Most trains connecting Pune with north and east Indian cities such as Lucknow, Kolkata and Patna have seen massive crowds.

“On Friday, we operated two extra trains – to Patna and Howrah. Considering the rush, we have decided to operate four extra trains – two specials to Patna, one to Guwahati and one to Howrah – on Saturday as well. Although, a ‘Janata Curfew’ has been announced on Sunday, we will have to take a call on Sunday morning if we have to operate trains to Patna, Lucknow and elsewhere after evaluating the demand,” said Manoj Jhawar, public relations officer (PRO), Pune Division.

Meanwhile, five ‘check-up desks’ have come up at the station – one each at the five entry-exit points. These desks are being manned by officials of the state Health department, supported by personnel of Railway Protection Force (RPF) and ticket examiners of Pune Division.

“The desks are meant to ensure that suspected COVID-19 patients do not escape the quarantine directives by taking trains. Although the volume of passengers in the trains is very high (as compared to airlines), what we are aiming at is creating fear among those planning to travel by trains to avoid scrutiny… they will be caught and penalised,” said a senior official with Pune Division of Central Railway.

But the five ‘check-up desks’ did not have any equipment or even signage to identify them. Staffers said they expected to receive ‘temperature guns’ from the state Health department later in the day.

“Railway staffers – ticket examiners and RPF personnel – are helping us… since we don’t have any equipment at the moment, we are just collecting information about their travel history and health-related symptoms,” said a health supervisor at the desk.

Anxiety among passengers at the station was palpable as many passengers, who had no prior reservations, arrived at the station several hours before departure time. Some people, who aimed to take the Pune-Patna Danapur Express at 8.55 pm, said they had reached the platform at 6 am, nearly 15 hours before the departure of the train.

Santosh Kumar, who works in a forging firm in Chinchwad, was the first in the queue for tickets to the Pune-Patna-Danapur Express. He said he decided to leave after the workshop he worked in closed a few days ago.

“There’s no work in Pune and hence we have no reason to live here. We are a group of eight persons from Madhubani district. Since we couldn’t get a ticket, we left very early and reached the station at 6 am. We were the first to queue up. We are hoping that we will get a seat,” said Kumar.

Mohammad Nazarullah, a madarassa teacher from Bihar who worked at a seminary in Dehu Road, said he had to leave because his family members were worried and calling him constantly.

“The madarassas have closed and children have gone home. However, I could have stayed back, by my family members back home are worried and are requesting me to come back. The news has also created panic among people back home with relentless coverage about the outbreak in Pune,” said Nazrullah.

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