LUCKNOW: India on Friday ran the first train service for thousands of migrant workers desperate to return home since it imposed a nationwide lockdown to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Relieved and smiling, 1,200 people clapped as they boarded the train at Lingampally in southern Telangana state for Hatia in the eastern state of Jharkhand — a 19-hour journey.
However, railroad authorities said Friday’s service was only a one-off special train and a decision on running more trains will be taken soon.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to announce on Sunday his decision whether to extend the 40-day-old lockdown or gradually ease it to resume economic activity. Earlier this week, the government allowed some shops to reopen and manufacturing and farming to resume.
On Friday, India registered another daily high of nearly 2,000 infections, bringing totals to 35,043 with 1,147 deaths.
Several states, including Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Telangana have demanded special trains for returning workers because they couldn’t arrange enough buses.
The Uttar Pradesh government in northern India has announced distribution of free food grains, but a majority of the migrant workers do not have cards issued by the state government to avail of the facility.
“The situation is aggravated because first these people do not have work and secondly there are more mouths to feed than the food available in the village,” said Nomita P. Kumar of Giri Institute of Development Studies in Lucknow, the state capital.
State Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered that those who do not have the government ration cards should not be denied food grains and should be given a provisional card.
The state government spokesman, Awanish Awasthi, said more than 12,000 workers and students had returned from northern Haryana and western Rajasthan states after the lockdown was announced on April 25 using more than 600 buses.
Around 1 million migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh are still stranded in other Indian states, he said.