Mumbai: Despite the government diktat to shut down all non-essential services, avoid mass gatherings and observe social distancing to avoid community transmission of coronavirus, it was mayhem at the city's major railway terminuses, as there was a scramble to board trains to hometowns.
There were unprecedented crowds as every passenger was in a scramble to take the first train out of the city. Railway officials have said they are running additional trains to clear the extra rush.This exodus began after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced that all non-essential workplaces in Mumbai, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad and Nagpur would remain closed until March 31.
Meanwhile, the ‘stamped hand’ continued to surface, much to the consternation of public at large. Fifteen people, whose hands bore the 'home quarantined' stamp, were found loitering at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus on Saturday. The alert RPF staff handed them over to railway authorities, the GRP and a medical team of the BMC. They were sent to the Visava Rest House at Worli.
Thousands of daily-wage labourers, students and staff thronging the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Thane and Kalyan railway stations, were in a mad rush to board trains bound for north and east India.
“I am a daily-wage worker but since the government has locked down the city, it is hard to find work. So, I am left with no option but to leave for home, instead of sitting idle,” said a carpenter, Ramnaumi Morya, who had boarded the LTT-Gorakhpur Express. I can go to my village and do some farming, so that there is some income,” he said.
On Friday, the Central Railway rolled out 12 special long-distance trains from Mumbai and Pune to destinations such as Patna and Danapur in Bihar, Howrah in West Bengal, Gorakhpur and Manduadih in Uttar Pradesh and Balharshah in Maharashtra.
“There has been a sudden surge of passengers from Mumbai and Pune to the east and north in the wake of COVID-19. We are monitoring the situation closely and will add more trains, if the situation demands,” said Shivaji Sutar, chief public relations officer, CR.Dr Om Shrivastva, an infectious diseases specialist, was apprehensive about people crowding railway stations, thereby defeating the purpose of the shutdown, as there is a possibility of people with corona symptoms travelling.
“The main idea of the government was to reduce mass gatherings but this situation can have a cascading effect as all these passengers are heading to their hometowns, where the number of cases must be low so far and chances are, after they reach, this number may increase,” he said.The special trains have more unreserved and sleeper class compartments. However, railway officials said there were few takers for the air-conditioned coaches and many reserved compartments were running empty. Since March 17, CR has cancelled nearly 59 long distance and passenger trains across its five divisions, as most were running at less than 20 per cent occupancy.There were serpentine queues at major terminuses of Western Railway like Mumbai Central and Bandra. WR announced that it had cancelled 12 trains, most of them between Mumbai and Gujarat, on account of the 'Janata curfew' on Sunday.