Almost two months after being forced to stop due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the Indian Railways has resumed passenger train operations, admittedly on a limited scale. Trains connecting major cities across the country were operationalised from Tuesday in a move to kickstart India’s economic engine. Several chief ministers cautioned Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi on the dangers of this move as India crossed a grim total of 70,000 positive cases and over 2,200 deaths. The PM acknowledged the concerns, said that rail services will be limited, and ruled out full resumption.
Stopping train services was a precaution at a time when India had about 500 cases. Now, despite enforcing one of the most stringent lockdowns, India’s battle against Covid-19 is only escalating. With the need to resuscitate the economy on one hand, and protect the health of its citizens on the other, India doesn’t have many options. This newspaper has consistently argued for a graded lockdown to revive the economy, with strict health protocols. The resumption of train services (with the exception of migrant workers who were left stranded) has risks. The government has issued guidelines to ensure the safety of travellers. But there are real challenges in implementation. How do people get to the railway station? How can trains, many of which have been booked to full capacity, ensure social distancing? What protocols are in place for possibly asymptomatic travellers?
Train travel can possibly lead to the spread of the disease, including in rural areas, and add to the health burden of states. The railways must do everything in its capacity to ensure that this doesn’t happen.