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Ministry of Railways 'Disposes Of' my RTI request regarding deaths on (Shramik) trains

Similar to the Vande Bharath Mission that was launched by the Indian Government to repatriate Indian nationals stranded abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic (when regular flight operations were banned across the country), the Government of India launched the much-needed project to enable reverse-migration of its nation's most destitute - our migrants. Migrant labourers who are typically from rural parts of India, due to a loss of income, livelihood, coupled with a fear of catching the virus and 'wanting to die at home', began walking back to their villages, at times 1000s of kilometres away. With all trains and buses ceasing operations, their journey was on foot, in back of trucks, and has resulted in many deaths. At the same time, it has shown their grit and determination with heart-breaking stories of people like the
15-year-old girl who cycled 1200 km with her father to reach home.


After not even acknowledging the problem for over a month, the Government launched special 'Shramik' trains to ferry migrants home, or at least get them closer to home. Although the demand for Shramik trains is (thankfully) on the decline in the first week of July, 5.2 million passengers have been ferried between the 1st and the 28th of May. A shocking statistic at the same time is that there were 80 deaths on Shramik trains between the 9th and 27th of May and officials claimed that all were because of natural causes. The BJP's (ruling party) leaders claimed that the issue is being politicised and that none of the deaths was because of starvation or hunger but just 'natural causes'.


The shockingly high number of deaths (of people between the ages of 4 and 95 years), did not seem right. I ran a google search to find out the number of deaths that have taken place due to natural causes inside trains between January 2019 and 2020 but could not find any data. The only articles that showed up while conducting multiple google searches were about 0 deaths taking place due to accidents in 2019-20. Due to the lack of data regarding deaths available on the public domain, I went ahead and filed a Right to Information (RTI) request with the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.


I asked two questions in my RTI request:


1. The number of deaths due to natural causes within trains between January 2019 and 2020.

2. The total number of passengers ferried in trains during the same period.


The question held public importance, and a straightforward response was expected.


Although I ended filing the RTI request with the wrong public body, as usual, it was transferred to the Ministry of Railways. 

The Right to Information Act, 2005, mandates a response within 30 days. 

On the 30th day, I finally received a 'response', if one can call it that. It said was that the matter doesn't pertain to either the DIG/ RPSF (Deputy Inspector General/ Railway Protection Special Forces). 


This has raised a few questions:

  • Most RTI responses are made well before the 30-day limit.
  • The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation transferred the RTI to the 'correct body' (the Ministry of Railways) in two days. Despite that, no satisfactory response has been given.
  • Why did the Central Public Information Officer take 30 days to provide such an unsatisfactory answer? If the matter does not 'pertain' to them, they could have disposed it of earlier. 

I believe that the Government does not want to respond to the RTI question for whatever their reason may be. However, I cannot and will not accept the matter being disposed of.

An appeal has been filed with the Ministry of Railways

About an hour before publishing this post, I have filed an appeal to seek redressal on the matter and get justice - in this case, it being an answer to two simple questions to compare it with what I assume is a shockingly high number of deaths on Shramik trains due to negligence on the Government's part and raise awareness for accountability about the same, if so be the case. 


I shall keep you updated with updates on the matter as I receive them!


Follow me on Twitter (@sanjith_rao)!


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Data and quote(s) sources:

https://www.thequint.com/news/india/80-people-have-died-on-shramik-trains-between-9-27-may-report

https://scroll.in/latest/963812/coronavirus-no-deaths-on-special-trains-caused-by-hunger-or-starvation-says-bjp


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