As lockdowns and curbs over coronavirus saw migrants flooding railway stations in big cities to rush back home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Saturday urged people to stay where they are. To mark the PM’s call for Janata Curfew, the Railways said all 3,700 trains across the country scheduled for departure between Saturday midnight and 10 pm Sunday stand cancelled.
Modi’s appeal came as West Bengal and Jharkhand asked the Railways to stop trains entering their states from outside.
“Never forget — precautions not panic!” Modi tweeted. “Unnecessary travels will not help you or others. In these times, every small effort on our part will leave a big impact,” the PM said, reacting to tweets by people, and urging them to listen to doctors and authorities.
Depending on the situation on Sunday, sources said, the government is contemplating suspending all train operations over the next several days. A decision in this regard may be taken late Sunday, though there is no official indication yet. In that case, the country may see elimination of long-distance travel options for people, especially the Railways, for the next one week. The option is being “actively” considered as a public safety move, sources said.
More than 2.3 crore travel on the Railways on average daily.
In an interview to TV channel ABP Ananda, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Saturday, “The problem is not Bengal. The problem is coming from outside. In other times, when we asked for special trains, the Railways never agreed. Now deliberately they are sending all to Bengal to keep their states empty. The migrant labourers who are working in other states, they can of course come back, but why does the Railways have no health examination facility?
Modi appeals for calm as people rush back home from big cities
We have been asking for it for a month… Our workers are very talented. Other states use them for their benefit and drive them away when there is a crisis.”
The CM also urged workers coming back from other states to stay home and not venture out, and said they should not migrate in the future as there were enough opportunities in West Bengal.
Chief Secretaries of West Bengal and Jharkhand wrote to the Railways seeking that trains entering their states be stopped. Officials expressed worry that the “extraordinary” request could prompt other states to resort to the same.
In fresh instructions Saturday, the Railways made it clear that trains whose departures were scheduled between Saturday-Sunday midnight and 10 pm Sunday will not run. Earlier, a leeway had been left for zonal units to run trains if needed to clear rush. This means 1,300 long-distance trains and 2,400 short-distance passenger trains across India have been cancelled.
Sources said the Railway Board decided on Saturday against giving a window to zonal heads, fearing it might prove counterproductive for social distancing. Those with bookings on these trains can seek refund till three months from the date of the journey.
A senior Railway Ministry official said, “Tomorrow, general managers may take a call to run special trains if need be, but the 3,700 regular trains identified for cancellation will not run. Long-distance trains which have already departed will be running so those who had to travel have already boarded trains. On Sunday, if people have some inescapable need to travel, maybe they can postpone their journey by a day.”
Across the country, states announced curbs cutting down movement. Rajasthan announced lockdown till March 31. Barring essential services, all public and private offices, malls, shops, factories and public transport will remain shut.
Odisha announced a “near total” shutdown in five districts (Khurda, Ganjam, Cuttack, Kendrapara and Angul) and eight towns (Puri, Sambalpur, Jharsuguda, Balasore, Rourkela, Bhadrak, Jajpur Road and Jajpur) for a week, starting Sunday. The districts and towns include those where over 3,000 people are estimated to have returned from abroad in the past few days.
Goa closed its borders to all passenger traffic starting Sunday 12 am, while asking people to stay indoors till 7 am Monday, eight hours beyond the Janata Curfew deadline. Exception will only be made for vehicles with Goan registration and vehicles ferrying essential goods. The state will also stamp those in home quarantine.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said while he was not imposing a lockdown, the option was open. Holding a ‘digital-only’ press conference, he said gatherings should be restricted to not more than five people in the Capital, and said those entitled to PDS rations would get 50% extra for next month. Delhi Metro will mostly be closed, except for a few hours, on Monday.
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West Bengal shut down all restaurants, bars, nightclubs, amusement parks, museums and zoos till March 31. The Greater Chennai Corporation blocked access to all beaches in the city and the suburbs, till further instructions. Chennai Metro is curtailing services.
Bihar ordered shutting down of all bus services, government and private, as well as restaurants and banquet halls till March 31. Puducherry said Section 144 would come into force on March 23 and will be in force till month end.
Haryana said it was restricting entry to government offices and said all those violating home quarantine would be prosecuted. In Arunachal Pradesh, municipal and panchayat elections slated for April-May are now on hold.
In Maharashtra, where major cities like Mumbai and Pune have announced shutdowns, the Nashik administration banned the sale of liquor from Saturday till further orders. Bars, including those in five-star hotels, have been ordered shut.
The measures by the Railways follow positive results for at least 12 train passengers, who had travelled between March 13 and 16, for coronavirus. On Saturday, the Railways pointed to these instances to discourage inessential travel.
As announced by Modi, Janata Curfew comes into force on Sunday, with the PM asking people to stay indoors from 7 am to 9 pm.
with ENS inputs
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