The Indian Railways has decided to go ahead and run two special trains from New Delhi to Chennai for stranded persons, overlooking the plea made by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami to the Centre not to resume train and air services at least till May 31 in view of high incidence of Covid cases.
The Railway Board has said the two trains could not be stopped as tickets have already been sold out and they will run on May 14 and 16. Initially, the railways planned to fun five special trains in this route. But it has curtailed the service to just two trains.
In a letter to Union Minister Amit Shah and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, Palanisami has said the proposal to run two fully air-conditioned Rajdhani Expresses carrying nearly 1,000 passengers will lead to a fresh wave of Covid cases in Tamil Nadu. Citing medical experts, he has said that corona virus will spread fast in air-conditioned coaches.
He has said these passengers will not be allowed to enter Tamil Nadu until they are subjected to the confirmatory RT- PCR test. Saying that 1000 passengers arriving in two days cannot be tested at one go, he has said the railways should make arrangement to isolate them till then.
Once the tests are completed, those testing positive will be sent to hospitals while others will be kept in home quarantine for 14 days, he has said.
By resuming railway services even of partially, the railways has presented to Chief Ministers with a fait accompli without even waiting for their video conference with the Prime Minister. Not only that the railways has not thought through the process. How will passengers coming from New Delhi to Chennai go to their home towns? All road transport services remain suspended for over 40 days in Tamil Nadu thanks to three consecutive lockdowns. Even if passengers test negative and they have their own vehicles, they will still need e-passes for inter-district movement.
Chennai has emerged as the hotspot with over 4800 cases, half of the State’s total, because it is an important entry point to the State to passengers coming by air, train and even ship. The first wave of infections, what Health Minister C Vijayabhaskar called imported cases, came from Indians returning from the west by air and to an extent by train passengers.
While air passengers were tested and isolated at Chennai airports, Vijayabhaskar said that there is no way train passengers can be tested in Chennai Egmore and Central. How many of these untested passengers carried the virus into the city is not known.
The second wave of infection was brought in by Tablighi Jamaat event in March in New Delhi. At least 1,000 from the State came back after attending the event. While many were found infected, others were initially asymptomatic. They proved to be hidden carriers in spreading the virus until the Government woke up to the threat by isolating them in containment zones.
The third wave was started by a case in Koyambedu wholesale market in Chennai. The cases were not as alarmingly high as with the Tablighi event.
Now a fourth wave is expected with the arrival of 1,000 passengers from New Delhi to Chennai. New Delhi has the fourth highest incidence of Covid cases after Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
Palanisami has every reason to worry as he has eased restrictions to enable resumption of economic activity in line with the Centre’s thinking that life has to go on while the battle against Covid continues.
The Tamil Government has already decided to extend the lockdown, the fourth, till May 31 and Palanisami told reporters after interacting with district collectors on Wednesday that further relaxation will depend on people’s cooperation. A formal announcement on extending the lockdown will be taken on or before May 17.