On April 16, the national carrier Indian Railways marked its 167th anniversary with no passenger trains plying on its network for the first time in its history. It has been a nearly month since the suspension of public transport in the country, including air, rail and bus services after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown beginning March 25. The lockdown was extended on April 15 to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected over 20,000 people in India alone. Studies have shown that public transport poses a major threat in the spread of the global pandemic.
“There were good reasons to extend the lockdown till May 3. I understand the problems being faced by people who need to travel and request them to bear with us,” Union civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri had said when the lockdown was extended in mid-April.
During the lockdown, the Indian Railways that operated on a mammoth network ferrying 23 million passengers across 13,000 trains has only operated freight trains to supply essential commodities. “The day the railways doesn’t operate it seems like the world has come to a standstill. Even so…more than 800,000 wagons have been deployed across the country since the lockdown operating on just one third of our staff strength,” a railway ministry spokesperson said.
No passenger has stepped foot inside the New Delhi Railway station, which handles roughly 500,000 passengers a day. The Indira Gandhi International Airport in the national Capital, which is the twelfth busiest in the word catering to roughly 69 million passengers annually, now only caters to cargo planes and aircraft ferrying foreigners seeking evacuation. Bus terminals such as Anand Vihar and Kashmere Gate would, in non Covid times cater to between 50,000 and 100,000 passengers every day. All interstate terminals are now empty.