Chief Ministers of two south Indian states, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reconsider the move to resume train service to their states. The request comes on the day Indian Railways resumed online booking for train services.
Other Chief Ministers, too, voiced similar concerns regarding resuming public modes of transport. Train services gradually resuming would mean an exponential rise in the number of people travelling between states.
The concerns were raised as part of the Prime Ministerâ€™s fifth interaction with the Chief Ministers all states in India, where the core topic was to formulate an exit strategy from the nationwide lockdown.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami categorically told the Prime Minister not to resume air or train services to Tamil Nadu until May 31. â€śI request you to not begin regular air services until May 31. We know from the press that regular train services to and from Chennai will commence from May 12. As the positive cases in Chennai are showing an increasing trend, donâ€™t permit train serviced up to May 31 in my state,â€ť he said.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao also urged Modi not to revive the passenger train services, which were suspended in March as part of preventive measures to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country.
In a statement from the Telangana Chief Minister's Office (CMO), KCR told Modi that the effect of coronavirus was more in main cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. Hence, allowing train services would lead to the movement of people from one destination to another. â€śNobody knows who is going from where to where. It is not possible to conduct tests on everyone. It is also difficult to put all those who travelled by trains under quarantine. Hence, passenger trains should not be allowed to ply,â€ť read the statement.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy was not averse to the idea of resuming trains service in his state. The CM was more focused on opening public transport within the state to revive the state economy.
According to a statement from the Andhra Pradesh CMO, Jagan told Modi that curbs on public transport need to be lifted so people can travel to work and the economy can return to normalcy. He said that unless workers from different states return to their workplaces, things will not return to a normal state. Their fear and anxiety must be allayed. Buses must operate with required physical distancing, and have masks and sanitisers.
A similar suggestion to open up public transport with adequate physical distancing measures was also made by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
The Kerala Chief Minister, however, was averse to the idea of allowing online booking of train tickets as would make Keralaâ€™s efforts to prevent community spread futile. â€śTrain tickets to the state must be allowed based on registration done by states. What the Centre has done is to allow online booking without considering the registration done by the state. If online bookings are allowed, the stateâ€™s attempts to contain transmission will not be effective.â€ť
Pinarayi instead requested Modi to provide special trains to bring stranded Non-Residential Keralites (NRKs) back to the state from major cities across India, with priority for students. Kerala CM proposed the idea that tickets for these trains should be issued based on registrations done at destination state and that the trains should be direct trains without any stop at any stations.
Speaking to Modi, Pinarayi said, â€śKerala has a substantial number of NRKs returning from abroad in special flights. It would be desirable to conduct a rapid antibody test prior to boarding. In the absence of this, there is every possibility that fellow travellers can get infected. We are already facing a situation where five passengers from international chartered flights tested positive.â€ť
The Karnataka CMO, in a statement to the media, told that Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa told Modi that all interstate travellers will be placed under compulsory institutional quarantine and tested in his state. Yediyurappa insisted that all interstate travellers should be issued a health clearance certificate at the place of origin of the journey by local authorities or hospitals and that those without a health clearance certificate be placed under compulsory quarantine.
The Karnataka CM insisted that all domestic and international travel should not be permitted, at least till the end of May. He also suggested that the concept of red, orange and green zones should be done away with. â€śOnly containment zones have to be identified and strictly cordoned. Areas with a radius of 50 to 100 meters around known clusters may be declared as containment zones. Commercial activities, including public transport, can be allowed in non-containment zones,â€ť said the statement.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray urged PM Modi to resume the Mumbai suburban trains for essential services. He also suggested verifying the credentials of people in the essential sectors before boarding the trains.
Referring to the resumption of train services, Modi said that it was needed to stimulate economic activity, but assured the CMs that all routes will not be opened.
At the video conference, at least five states, including Telangana, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Punjab, batted for an extension of the lockdown, while other states and Union Territories asked for more relaxation to open up the economy.