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Restoring the Normality in India

It’s been almost 50 days since the government of India came to standstill the railway services in India, to stem the spread of COVID-19 infection because this national transporter, used by millions of people every day was critical to India’s pandemic containment plan; however, recently, a major decision was taken by the Indian government, where the resumption of normal activity like inter-state trains for all the passengers had commenced on Tuesday 12 May. Initially, these 15 ‘Special Trains’ with full air-conditioned (AC) coaches were resumed accompanied by the fares equivalent to premium Rajdhani trains. With ticket counters continue to remain closed, people will have to book tickets online on the official website of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).

Originating from the railway station of New Delhi, the train will connect places like Assam, Tripura, West Bengal, Bihar, Bilaspur Chhattisgarh Ranchi, Bhubaneswar, Secunderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Madgaon, Mumbai Central, Ahmedabad and Jammu Tawi (The Hindu).

Along with mandatory precaution like covering the face, keeping the social distancing in consideration, there will be screening at departure as well, where passengers with even the slightest symptoms will not be allowed to board on trains, as states by the railway authorities. While the rationale behind the resumption of trains amidst the lockdown 3.0 is to get the idea of the demand for inter-state movement, the risk of spreading infection has increased.

Ostensibly, this decision may be re-evaluated in about a few days, if the trial proved to be a wrong step.
These special trains are in addition to the existing Shramik specials running especially for migrant workers from early May, asserting no charges for the train fare, so that every stranded migrant worker could reach back home; however, it generated yet another controversy in public when various sources revealed that the fares of those tickets were being taken from the passengers. It rose anger and dilemma amongst many Indians and why not? Those migrant workers were jobless and few were even homeless from many days.

Recent cases of expatriates testing positive in several states added to the worries of passengers and authorities. Reportedly, in the PM Narendra Modi’s video conferencing, CM of various states did not favour the resumption of passenger trains amidst the lockdown. Many states have already restricted the arrival of domestic traveller and others have regulated it with 14 days institutional quarantine compulsory for travellers.

There are various challenges that we, as a country might face from the restoration of railway services, especially when the transmission of this deadly disease is rising.

While the government try to move forward after a few weeks of lockdown, accompanied by the higher risk, it has become significant to make sure that the virus from Delhi does not spread in villages of India. As a precautionary measure, it has been stated that the medical procedures will be followed at the destination of departure, which is going to be a huge responsibility and with a simple mistake at hand, the whole effort of restoration will go to vain.

1. It is important to get those medical procedures absolutely correct because we don’t want other states to suddenly start getting the cases of Coronavirus. Now the success of special train’s trial heavily depends upon the medical checking before departure of the passengers because even if a single passenger with the slightest symptom boards the train, hundreds of people will be exposed to that infection in some way or the other. We all know about the social distancing that needs to be followed; however, the question is to what extent a person could follow social distancing?

2. Let’s not overlook the high spreading areas of ac trains which are being touched by almost everyone in the coach. If you have ever travelled in AC coaches, you would be able to follow me in the imagination where outside the AC cabin, the area with washrooms, washbasin, coach gates; yes, exactly that area, it is one of the high risked area touched by and exposed to the number of people.

3. Proper planning is crucial to take off this trial. There can be a sudden need for quarantine centres at the railway station. With the experience of previous disasters and increasing chaos, resulting from the lack of planning, I’m sure we have at least learnt to better be safe than to suffer later in big numbers.

4. Now if we talk about the passengers, they should also be responsible for their own safety, irrespective of government’s precaution, a little mistake from both the sides can put a halt on everything for everyone. Passengers themselves need to be aware of the level of social distancing, they must volunteer for a medical checkup if the authorities have missed them and most importantly, they must be encouraged to use their water, food, sanitizers, and other necessities.

The reason behind my pressure on extra care that authorities need to take during a medical checkup is that, despite high checking on Indian airports, we have had people entering with the coronavirus infection in the country without even a hint to medical authorities. These hits, miss, and spread cases can be deadly for a lot of people so here are a few more thoughts for its possible solution:

Tracing and even contra tracing is required, won’t you agree?
An awareness initiative can help passengers understand the social distancing norms and safety measures exclusively for the trains?
Being clear about the roles and responsibilities of authorities and all the railway personnel to ensure less chaos in the crucial moments, because why not?
“Indian Railways is going to start a few passenger trains services. It is mandatory for passengers to download Aarogya Setu app in their mobile phones, before commencing their journey,” the tweet posted from the official Railway ministry handle at 12.24 am said.

Moreover, the railway has made Aarogya Setu app mandatory to travel in special ac trains so that passengers can be aware if they have come in contact with any COVID-19 infected person; however, how effective an app can be when the infected person is on the first stage of the disease?

By Karishma Gwalani

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