Migrants who returned from Jaipur by Shramik Special train Danapur railway station India
Image Credit: ANI

On May 1, the Indian government launched Shramik Special trains to ferry migrant labourers who were stranded across the country, amid the coronavirus lockdown. But, new data from India’s Railway Protection Force (RPF) shows that around 80 people have died, on board these trains, between May 9 and May 27.

Many angry Indians are taking to Twitter, to highlight the government’s apathy towards the plight of poor labourers, “who will take responsibility?” they asked.

Tweeting a news report, Indian journalist @sardesairajdeep asked: “Shouldn’t someone say sorry and be held accountable?”

Tweep @RizwanChopdar1 posted: “While the Modi government is ‘celebrating’ first year of its second tenure, 80 poor people have died while trying to reach home. There’s near zero outrage over it. And we are still calling ourselves a democracy?”

And, @tjweet highlighted how the government and lawmakers were keeping silent about the situation: “With all the coverage of 80 deaths on Shramik trains, not a peep from either PM nor RM. Any other country, people would be on the streets demanding their resignation. Indians cozy in their classist comfort. #AllLivesMatter”

Twitter @anirudhruhil7 asked: “Who is responsible?”

Many also criticised the country’s Railway minister Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal), today, after he tweeted: “200 Special Trains to run across the country from tomorrow, transporting people in a safe and comfortable manner.” Tweeps asked if he was ignorant of the situation on these trains.

Reportedly, an RPF official said, "…heat, exhaustion and thirst are among the primary issues faced by the passengers on board these trains".

According to a report on hindustantimes.com: "The deaths were recorded across several zones including the East Central Railway zone, North Eastern Railway zone, Northern Railway zone and North Central Railway zone; and the ages of the dead ranged from four to 85. The list also mentions the co-morbidities or accidents that caused the deaths in a few cases. There have been 18 deaths in the North Eastern Railway zone, 19 in North Central zone and 13 in East Coast Railway zone, and 10 deaths in the Northern Railway zone.” Data for the Shramik Special trains between May 1 and May 8 was not available.

Ironically, the decision to start the Shramik Special services came amid frequent social media reports of migrant sufferings and deaths as they attempted to reach their homes

The Shramik service has faced constant criticism on Twitter, for the lack of food and basic medical facilities on these trains, and for reportedly getting lost or causing delay after being diverted

Tweep @PaulMridula posted: “So thoroughly have they been dehumanised that no one thought that they might need food and water along the way.”

Calling it poor governance, tweep @MihirSeth4 wrote: “If we were worried about Modi causing genocides I think we should put that thought to rest. He already has. 80 people died on Shramik trains (that don't appear to go where they're meant to), and God knows how many others on the streets. You call this governance?”

And, tagging the country’s Prime Minister, @amarnathpanjika tweeted: “@NarendraModi ji Many trains lost their routes due to which passengers have suffered a lot and more than 80 people have lost their life on Shramik trains.”

Meanwhile, Twitter account @swaraj_abhiyan, questioned why incomplete reports were being promoted earlier: “The government is saying that nine people have died, and according to RPF reports 80 people have died till now on Shramik Trains. Can we expect the truth from the government when the country is in such a disaster during this pandemic?”

Earlier this week, it was reported that nine people died over a period of 48 hours on board Shramik Special trains. The Railways had claimed that these deaths were a result of co-morbidities. On Friday, the Railways and even Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had appealed to certain 'vulnerable' groups—pregnant women, children below 10 years of age, people above 65 years and those with co-morbidities—to avoid travelling on the Shramik Special trains.

Twep @ranjanpanda posted: “I can't understand what our railway minister wants to convey here. People want to travel back because they are under severe stress. The government is supposed to run these trains to reduce their stress.”

And, @Raja_Sw tweeted: “I thought the entire purpose of these Shramik trains was to help migrants who are in distress to get them home. And now you say ‘avoid travelling in Shramik trains if in distress’. What next - Avoid eating food if hungry? Avoid drinking water if thirsty?”

On Friday, Railway Board Chairman V.K. Yadav told a press conference that until May 28, a total of 3,840 Shramik Special trains had been operated, ferrying approximately 5,200,000 passengers.