Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has asked his officials to go all out to arrange for trains for migrants, and to “do the best you can” to make their journey home comfortable. Goyal became visibly emotional while talking about “the plight of migrants walking back home” during a meeting with Railways brass over video conference on Sunday, it is learnt.
This was in contrast to the instructions Goyal issued in a meeting on May 2, during which he asked officials to prioritise freight trains, run Shramik Specials only until May 17 and strictly at the request of state governments, and ensure that states paid for the migrants’ travel.
On Sunday, the minister asked Divisional Railway Managers (DRMs) to go ahead and take decisions based on the ground situation, including on operational and financial matters, without waiting for approval from the Railway Board.
“You can take any decision in anticipation of post facto approval from the ministry or Railway Board, if required,” Goyal is learnt to have said. “Whatever decision you take, you presume it’s my decision and I’ll back it in total,” Goyal is learnt to have told the officers in the meeting.
He said he had been distressed by the images of migrant workers walking back to their villages, and specifically mentioned one in which a woman could be seen dragging a suitcase with a small boy asleep on it. Over 130 migrant workers trying to escape locked down cities have been killed in several accidents on highways, and one on the railway tracks.
The minister asked officials to give multiple halts to trains to facilitate easy dispersal of passengers, and to prevent bunching and crowding at the last stop. In the previous meeting two weeks ago, he had advised against allowing additional stops to trains as demanded by state governments.
The decision has been taken after several trains that reached districts in Uttar Pradesh were held up for several hours as passengers were not allowed to get off to ensure social distancing, until buses had arrived to pick them up.
The minister has also asked officials to set up tents on railway premises for migrants to be accommodated until their onward transport arrived. He asked officials to treat the returning workers as if they were their “own children” and provide them with plenty of water and food until they reached their destinations, it is learnt.
Sunday’s meeting was attended largely by the same officers who have been attending earlier meetings with the minister by video conference. Goyal and Chairman Railway Board V K Yadav congratulated the officers for a good show so far, and stressed on running “as many Shramik Specials” as possible as a matter of utmost priority.