The Department Related Standing Committee for Railways, headed by former Union minister Radha Mohan Singh, met on Wednesday to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on India's lifeline.
Railways was represented by Chairman of the Railway Board VK Yadav and four other officials from various departments.
A slew of measures taken by the Railways ensured that despite lockdown, the operational services remained undisrupted. Railway freight has also been growing consistently since May 2020 -- 93.58 Metric Tonnes in June, 95.18 MT in July, 94.63 MT in August 102.30 in September and 108.26 MT in October.
“In August, September and October, we have loaded more than the corresponding months of the last year. On a cumulative basis, loading from April 1 till October 31 is 641.94 MT as compared to 680.78 MT during the same period last year and the shortfall has been reduced from the peak of 64.90 MT till July to 38.84 MT till October,” the department said.
The officials also told the committee that in order to ensure that migrants reached home safely during the nationwide lockdown, Shramik Special trains were plied as per demands of each state government. These trains carried 63.19 lakh passengers between May 1 and August 31.
Thereafter, 166 pairs of trains have been introduced since September 23 for passenger travel purpose and 213 pairs of festival special trains during peak season.
Officials informed the committee that severe impact on passenger business has been observed due to the pandemic as the number of passengers as well as revenue dropped drastically. However, limited resumption of passenger trains and festive specials have helped Railways recover some revenue. All concessions were withdrawn except those for students, divyangs and patients.
In 2019-2020, passenger revenue of the Indian Railways stood at Rs 30,841 crore which was drastically reduced to Rs 2,920 crore in ongoing 2020- 2021.
The MPs asked Railway officials about the total number of Railway employees who have been affected by COVID-19. Officials said the number stands at around 23,000 of whom about 700 staff succumbed to the virus.
The MPs further asked the officials what is being done about employees who lost their battle to the virus in the line of duty. They were informed that compensation was given following government guidelines and a job was being offered to one of the family members. A few MPs suggested to the Railways such sacrifices by the employees must be receive their due as is being done by some state governments.
Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant cited the example of Maharashtra where families of frontline workers who succumbed to COVID-19 were given Rs 50 lakh as compensation.
The parliamentarians also asked s the officials to look at hiring professional doctors and specialists for Railway hospitals and improve their infrastructure. Officials noted the suggestions given by the MPs.
Several members, including Rajya Sabha MP from Samajwadi Party Ashok Siddharth, wanted to know about the number of passengers who died during travel amid the pandemic.
Members also asked the Railways to clarify how many people died in the trains and how many passes at the railway platforms or station premises.
As the officials did not have this information available, they said they would give a written response to this query to the committee.
The Railways also highlighted before the committee about how this fight against the pandemic has not been an easy one and till date, every guideline is being duly followed, including social distancing and mandatory masks for all.
Officials told the committee that the following steps are being taken for issuing tickets wherein only reserved tickets are being committed. Reserved tickets are being issued online through its website and application of the IRCTC.
In addition, reserved tickets are being issued through computerised Passenger Reservation System (PRS) counters, Yatri Ticket Suvidha Kendras (YTSK), certain identified post offices and Common Service Centres (CSC). There is an Advanced Reservation Period (ARP) of 120 days. Tatkal ticket booking is also permitted.