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Saturday, February 4, 2023

India reopens train stations: Crowds gather & make social distancing impossible

The coronavirus pandemic has gripped India and the number of cases are increasing daily, during which the government has decided to reopen train stations to facilitate the daily wage earners.

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India has partially restored train services amid reports of chaos and overcrowding at some stations. At least 145,000 people will travel in trains on Monday as the country starts to reopen after a prolonged lockdown.

Two hundred trains will now start operations – up from the existing 30 that are currently running.

Social distancing proving difficult as India reopens train stations 

But maintaining social distancing and cleanliness is proving to be a difficult task as huge crowds gathered outside some stations. India’s mammoth railway network usually carries 25 million passengers every day.

India’s ministry of home affairs has issues specific guidelines for the smooth operation of train services. They say that all passengers will have to be screened, social distancing must be followed at the station and in trains and only passengers who have confirmed tickets will be allowed to travel.

But some stations reported chaotic scenes as officials struggled to enforce these guidelines. BBC Telugu reported that people were standing much too close to each other at Secunderabad railway station in the southern Telangana state.

“Railway staff and police didn’t allow passengers to go inside the station until at least one hour before the scheduled departure, citing physical distancing measures. This led to some chaos outside the railway station as a large number of passengers had gathered and there was no physical distance maintained. Police later arrived and organised the queues,” The BBC’s Sharath Behara says.

BBC Hindi’s Salman Ravi reporting from Delhi, said strict social distancing was being followed when passengers boarded trains, and all of them wore masks.

India reopens train stations due to impact of lockdown on poor population

Train services came to a grinding halt when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown on 24 March to stop the spread of coronavirus.

This left millions of daily-wage workers stranded as they desperately tried to go back to their villages from cities. Many of them decided to walk long distances – in some cases more than 1,000 kilometres.

As pressure and criticism mounted, the government started running special trains to ferry migrants. Some 30 trains restarted on 12 May, since then there has been a consistent demand to reopen more routes.

At least 49 million people across the world are expected to plunge into “extreme poverty” — those living on less than $1.90 per day — as a direct result of the pandemic’s economic destruction and India leads that projection, with the World Bank estimating some 12 million of its citizens will be pushed to the very margins this year.

Some 122 million Indians were forced out of jobs last month alone, according to estimates from the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, a private sector think tank. Daily wage workers and those employed by small businesses have taken the worst hit. These include hawkers, roadside vendors, workers employed in the construction industry and many who eke out a living by pushing handcarts and rickshaws.

For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power in 2014 promising to lift the poorest citizens out of poverty, the fallout from the lockdown brings with it significant political risk. He won an even larger second term majority last year on the strength of his government’s popular social programs that directly targeted the poor, such as the provision of cooking gas cylinders, power and public housing. The breadth and depth of this renewed economic pain will only increase the pressure on his government as it works to steer the country’s economy back on track.

India blames Islamic party for spread of coronavirus 

Despite the Indian government’s decision to ease the lockdown, which has led to lack of social distancing and following of SOP’s, leaders in India still blame Muslims for spreading the coronavirus. This makes apparent the intense Islamophobia that is gripping the country.

India brought charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the chief of the country’s Tableeghi Jamaat for holding a gathering that authorities say led to a big jump in coronavirus infections, police said in March.

Read more: India blames Tableeghi Jamaat leader for coronavirus surge

The headquarters of the Tableeghi Jamaat group in a cramped corner of Delhi were sealed and thousands of followers, including some from Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh, were taken into quarantine after it emerged they had attended meetings there in mid-March.

Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government have cautioned against fanning communal tension by laying the blame for the spread of the coronavirus on the Muslim group.

Coronavirus in India: The situation so far

In addition to the economic slump that has been seen in India, the coronavirus has amplified public health and safety loopholes in the Indian system, with many people infected and losing their life despite the lockdown.

As of today, the number of people infected by the Novel Coronavirus in India and suffering from the associated disease COVID-19 has crossed 191,000. There have been more than 5,000 deaths associated with the disease. A statistic to take heart from is the fact that 91,000 people suffering from COVID-19 have recovered so far in India.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk