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COVID-19 lockdown: Indian Railways, the champion of India’s fight against the pandemic

Not just food, water, fuel and other essentials, the Railways also ensured that medicines, medical supplies and protective gear needed for the fight against coronavirus are delivered all over the country. Railways had undertaken almost the entire burden of keeping supply wheels turning.

The work of the Union Government, in earnest, is a collective endeavour. However, sometimes, some departments are silent war horses that keep working, delivering their best even when the nation is facing a crisis. And the performance level of a certain ministry during challenging times is usually a reflection of the dedication of the minister who is in charge. The Indian Railways and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal are the best examples.

When the whole country came to a standstill due to lockdown, almost dormant and in wraps because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Railways did their job as usual but at their best. With all humility, the minister in his speech in the India Foundation Dialogue 70 (conducted on 14th July via CISCO Webex) said, the entire credit goes to his staff i.e. Railway employees. He also said that they worked devotedly, day and night, for the country despite the fear and threat to life and health due to the coronavirus.

Indian Railways: The lifeline of the country

During the lockdown, the entire country had uninterrupted power supply. How could we get that privilege? It was because of Railways. The coal needed for the (thermal) electricity, was moved to power plants non-stop by freight trains even during the Janata curfew that was followed by the lockdown. Did we worry about water during the lockdown? No. For, the electricity needed for pumping the water was generated as the coal was provided with no hindrance by Railways. Hence, it goes without saying, that electricity and water supply, both the essential commodities, were transported and delivered by the railways through efficiently managed freight services.

Apart from that, Railways had to bear a heavy burden as the other means of transport came to a halt. It had to take the burden of carrying food-grains, vegetables, petrol, coal, medicine, parcel service etc; to name a few, to remote areas to serve people. When the whole country was hibernating, the Railway employees were awake serving. They are also mortals. They too were and are scared of coronavirus, they too have the families that depend on them. Yet, they worked courageously like doctors and other medical assistants. “Never for the fear of pandemic, did they say that they don’t work”, said the minister extolling their services.

Railways ensured there is no shortage anywhere

Did we have any food-shortage during the lockdown? No. Did any farmer complain of lack of fertilizers? No. Was there any complaints of shortage and non-availability of essential goods, medicines and other items during the lockdown? No. Indian Railways efficiently supplied to all the corners of the country.

Not just food, water, fuel and other essentials, the Railways also ensured that medicines, medical supplies and protective gear needed for the fight against coronavirus are delivered all over the country. Railways had undertaken almost the entire burden of keeping supply wheels turning. From food, medicines, oils, coal to construction supplies, the railways kept working tirelessly, employing thousands of employees, workers and delivered a consistent, reliable perfomance in the time of need.

Initially, when the lockdown was clamped there was a severe shortage of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for Railway employees. That did not deter them. Railways worked and produced on their own the PPE required, without causing any inconvenience or burden on the Centre for the outside supply. The Railway factories produced masks, sanitizers and other PPE for their employees and for the Railway hospitals. In that way Railways became Atmanirbhar.

Above all, to help the coronavirus-infected persons, railway coaches were converted into isolation wards (that was an innovative idea of the PM). This way, around 5000 coaches occupying 8000 beds were arranged. Special parcel-trains were put in place to carry medicine, textiles, fruits, vegetables to every nook and corner of the country. This will be continued post-COVID too, says the minister. These freight-services earlier used to run at 23 Km/hour, now they are at an increased high speed of 40-45 Km/hour. So, a lot of economic activity is coming back to Indian Railways. As per the minister’s saying: ‘Railways is the people’s property and it belongs to the people’’.

Shramik Special Trains

These trains carried lakhs of migrant workers from the cities where they were stranded to their respective home states. Meals and water were provided during their journey by Railways free of cost. Health check-up was done by the respective state –governments before boarding the train and they were quarantined after getting down in their native states. Ticket-fare was borne 85% by the state, the rest by the Railways.

On the first day of operations, the Indian Railways ran 145 Shramik Special Trains and took nearly 2 lakh stranded labourers to their home states.

Railways finished pending projects during lockdown

Minister Piyush Goyal had recently informed that the railways have finished over 200 pending projects during the lockdown. Some projects required a complete or partial shutdown of some of the busiest railway stations in India, which is practically impossible in normal days. However, the lockdown brought a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Railway, and the ministry took full advantage of the lockdown.

These projects include yard remodelling, repair and registering of old bridges, doubling and electrifying rail lines, and renewing scissor crossovers. Some of the projects were pending for several years, and there were some unfinished projects as well. All these together created bottlenecks for the Railways, which has now been cleared to a large extent.

The future

Green Railways: electrification of railway lines paves the way for this. Solar energy could also be used to get environmentally friendly Green Railways. This is a fight against environmental pollution. India, in a short time, is likely to produce 20 gig watt of solar power across the country. By 2030, India would be the world’s first Railway Global Citizen, as envisioned by the minister.

Privatization: Competition brings quality. Just like the telecom sector, privatization of some of the busiest railway routes would bring good-infrastructure. Private trains usually run much faster, coaches could be made in India as a part of Atmanirbhar Bharat, using better technology.

Electrification: Yesterday, addressing an event organised by the CII, Goyal stated that the Indian Railways is to be fully electrified in the next 3.5 years. Goyal said that the government  is promoting Make in India for renewable energy and is fully committed to making the industry Atmanirbhar. He added that by 2030, indian Railways will be the world’s first ‘clean energy railways’.

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G Indira
Author of the book: The India I Know and of Hinduism. Publications in -charge Pragna Bharati Organisation, Hyderabad. Academician and free-lancer

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