On Friday, online portal Scroll published an article claiming that the Indian Railways is charging more for the Shramik Special trains, and not providing any subsidy as claimed by the government. In the report titled “Far from subsidising Shramik trains, Modi government is actually charging extra for them”, Scroll claimed the amount charged by the Railways for the Shramik Special trains is more than the regular fare on the same routes.
They also claimed that the govt’s assertation that 85% subsidy is provided on the trains can’t be proved as this figure has not been audited, and it is unclear for which base fare this subsidy has been calculated. The Scroll further claimed that a large number of Shramik trains also reached their destinations late.
But the claims made by the Scroll article are completely misleading, and they don’t reflect the fact on the ground.
Charging of Shramik Special Trains:
The ‘Shramik Specials’ are run with second class coaches with provision of separate berth for all the passengers. The services provided in ‘Shramik Specials’ are free food and water, additional rake maintenances required in wake of mandatory specialized disinfecting of the trains, special deployment of security staff, medical arrangements on need basis etc. Due to special run, there is unidirectional demand and the trains are running empty in the return direction i.e., in ‘lock & key’ condition. No separate charges like catering etc. have been taken from passengers.
The states were required to register the ‘Shramiks’ and other stranded persons and buy the tickets from railways to specified destinations and distribute the tickets to the passengers. Accordingly, the state governments were submitting fare to Railways. Nominal fare for the Shramik trains was finalized with a view to prevent unlimited and unrealistic demand generation and help genuine stranded migrants. Involvement of state governments through SOP (Standard operating procedure) was necessary to identify genuine beneficiaries and their transportation to stations from the shelters, maintain law and order and prevent stampede like situation etc. at stations, screening of passengers besides following the State wise Health protocols related to COVID-19 as the special trains are running on the request of the state government.
Indian railway on an average gives 43% subsidy on the fare. In the case of Shramik Special trains, they are being run on demand of states. As per the existing provisions, the ‘Train on Demand’ are run on FTR (Full Tariff Rate) basis due to additional operational inputs going into running of such trains. Though ‘Shramik Special’ are also ‘Trains on Demand’ with added customized inputs, as a conscious decision the Full Tariff Rate fare is not being charged as the ‘Shramik Special’ are for facilitation of ‘distressed’ persons stranded in different places after having started from their places of work before the lockdown. The fare/ passenger for normal Sleeper class trains is very less as compared to fare / passenger of FTR trains. On adding the subsidy factor, catering charges and other charges like detention charge, rake sanitizing charge etc., the percentage proportion of fare for Shramik Special trains running on sleeper class mail express fare and FTR train fare, further diminishes.
The Scroll article mentioned that Indian Railways charged Rs 13 Lakhs as fare for carrying 1200 Passengers from Thiruvanatapuram (Kerala) to Ambikapur (Chattisgarh) which comes out to be Rs 1,083 per passenger. However as per information received from sources in the concerned zonal Railways i.e Southern Railway, a Shramik special train no 06184 was run from Thiruvanatapuram to Ambikapur (2687 km) on 24.05.2020 with total of 1265 passengers. The total fare collected for this train was Rs 11.51 Lakhs, which comes to be Rs 910 per passenger, and this is the normal fare. The facts pertaining to total fare, per person fare and number of passengers as mentioned in the said news article are factually not correct and misplaced.
In the other examples mentioned in the article, the complete details like train number, originating date etc is not mentioned and hence the veracity of the facts can’t be verified.
‘Shramik Specials’ operations—Diversion of trains
The Scroll article also questioned the diversion took by many Shramik Special trains, which does not match with regular trains, and claimed that such diversions have no logic. But that is also not true, because they are not regular trains as the ‘Shramik Specials’ were arranged as “trains on demand” based on the demands placed by state governments in order to facilitate rapid transportation of migrant workers and other stranded persons. There are several challenges relating to these operations, which are not there with regular trains operations. Some of such challenges are:
- Non-feasibility of pre-specified timetable as the trains are based on dynamic demand and departure time as per the convenience of the sending State Governments
- Crew and rakes to be arranged on a case to case basis (regular trains have pre-defined links).
- Platform berthing and maintenance schedules to be arranged for each train after demand is received from states.
- Arranging rakes for transportation with a short notice of few hours.
- No restriction placed on the states in respect of originating points and destination points as also the number of trains to be operated.
- Specified pre-boarding health screening protocol to be followed.
- Arrangement of food and water for passengers despite the closure of all catering facilities due to lockdown.
- No overcrowding to be allowed in stations and platforms in view of social distancing norms and health protocols.
Despite the challenges, Indian Railways has fully met the demand placed by State Governments. So far, Indian Railways has operated 4393 specials and has transported 59.64 lakh migrant workers.
The ‘Shramik Specials’ operations began on 1st May 2020. National Executive Committee in its order dated 1st May 2020, allowed the movement of stranded persons by trains. Accordingly, Ministry of Railways had drawn up comprehensive guidelines on 2nd May 2020 for the States / UTs and Zonal Railways, clearly delineating the responsibilities of each agency to facilitate easy coordination and smooth operations.
In order to enable state governments to transport the migrants faster, the SOP was amended from 19th May 2020, removing the need for consent of the receiving state. Indian Railways also allowed multiple pick up and set down points in sending and receiving States to accommodate the request of the States
Congestion during 20th to 24th May, 2020
A lot of media attention had gone to delays suffered by the trains during the period 20th May to 24th May, which found a mention in the Scroll article also. Although Railways has already clarified that trains were diverted due to the congestion on few selected routes as too many trains were running on the same routes, Scroll claims that the logic is untenable because there is far less congestion now than pre lockdown.
But the fact is that, this was a peak period of Shramik trains, and during this period the average number of trains went up from 93 (72 trains bound for UP & Bihar) per day (May 1-19, 2020) to 256 trains (212 trains bound for UP and Bihar) per day (May 20-24, 2020). Most of these trains originated from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab.
Most of these trains were notified within a 10-hour window (14 hours to 24 hours) and had late starts creating bunching and congestion in the section. Further, most of these trains to UP and Bihar headed to few terminals like Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Varanasi, Lucknow, Katihar, Purnea and Danapur. Also, State Governments faced a major challenge in arranging buses, police and health workers as well as sanitation/quarantine facility at these terminals to observe health protocols. On average, each train took about 2 hours to clear from the platform to make room for the subsequent train creating a cascading shadow of waiting trains over the routes leading to these terminals.
Moreover, the goods trains were never suspended during the lockdown, so the claim that congestion should be less is not correct, Railways indeed faced huge congestion in few select routes during that period.
Concentration of trains from Gujarat and Maharashtra towards UP and Bihar
As may be seen from the graph below, nearly 83% of the trains were bound for UP and Bihar:-
As a result of the concentration of the trains on one route, due to above reasons, some trains were stalled on the tracks for hours between Khandwa- Jabalpur- Manikpur- Prayagraj- Deendayal Upadhyay sections and Jhansi- Kanpur- Lucknow sections. Further trains could be moved only after ensuring decongestion of the route. To save the passengers from getting stuck in stationary trains in scorching heat, trains were diverted to alternative non-congested routes rather than wait for the congestion to ease which would have taken at least 12-18 hours. Accordingly, some trains were diverted to facilitate faster transit and create staggered arrival at congested destinations.
To ease the congestion on the Nandgaon-Khandwa section, trains which were detained South of Bhusaval and were headed towards Bihar and eastern UP were planned for diversion via Nagpur to SECR. The train from Vasai Road to Gorakhpur was among those diverted trains. This was done with a view to ease the gridlock and to facilitate further movement of trains. It may be noted that on 22nd May 2020, during the peak period both the Itarsi- Jhansi- Kampur- Allahabad route and the Itarsi- Jabalpur – Allahabad route were congested. Therefore, a quick decision was taken to divert towards Bihar and eastern UP were planned for diversion via Nagpur and Jharsaguda. The said train from Vasai Road to Gorakhpur mentioned in the Scroll article reached its destination in two and a half days, despite the planned diversion.
Route wise diversion of trains:
It is important to note that the diverted trains constitute only 1.6% of the total Shramik Specials Operated.
Catering arrangement for diverted trains
Despite the diversion being sudden and eateries/catering contractors closed due to lockdown, there were very few instances of delay in arranging food and water reported on these trains, according to Railway ministry sources. Quick action was taken in coordination with local authorities and food and water supplies were maintained in these 71 trains also.