Signalling a big relief for lakhs of stranded migrant workers in different parts of the country, a special train carrying 1,200 of them from Telangana left for Hatia in Jharkhand after the railways ministry acceded to the request of the state government for facilitating their return.
The first non-stop train left Lingampalli railway station in Hyderabad around 4.50 am, two days after the Union home ministry allowed inter-country movement of stranded migrant labourers, pilgrims and others and states like Telangana, Kerala, Punjab, Bihar and Punjab sought such specials.
The migrant workers from neighbouring Sangareddy district, were brought to the city in buses and allowed to board the 24-coach train, the first passenger train to run in the country since the national lockdown to check coronavirus came into force on March 25, officials said.
However, they did not divulge any further details about the operation which was apparently carried out in a hush-hush manner and caught many by suprise.
No formal announcement was made by the government on the operation of the train while district officials were not reachable despite repeated attempts.
The railways described it as a "one-off" service while the state government was tight-lipped when asked if more such trains were in the offing.
Some of the workers who boarded the special service were working at IIT, Hyderabad, located in Sangareddy, which witnessed protests by construction labourers, allegedly denied payment, who indulged in stone pelting and also demanded that they be sent back home.
Three policemen including a sub-inspector were injured in stone pelting and a police vehicle damaged in the incident.
Telangana government officials said due protocols for the safe journey of the workers have been followed.
In New Delhi, Railway Protection Force Director General Arun Kumar said the train left from Lingampally at 4.50 am. It's the only train to be deployed so far, he added.
"Today (Friday) morning a one-off special train was run from Lingampalli to Hatia on request of the state government of Telangana and as per the directions of ministry of railways," the railways said in a statement.
All necessary precautions such as prior screening of passengers, maintaining social distancing at station and in the train were followed, it said.
A spokesperson for the South Central Railway which is running the train service said all passengers were thermal screened at the station, masks were made mandatory and on board food arrangements made as the train will have no halts.
As part of social distancing measures, it has allowed only 54 passengers per coach as against the capacity 72. In coupes, six passengers have been allowed instead of eight, the spokesperson said.
The train will reach Hatia at 11 pm on Friday and the migrants are expected to be taken to quarantine facilities.
The railways clarified that this service was only a "one-off special train" and any further trains shall be planned only as per the directions of railways ministry and on request from both the originating and destination state governments.
Meanwhile, a Telangana minister, who had demanded for such a special train, claimed on Friday Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy had appreciated his idea.
"Union Minister Kishan Reddy called me at 9.35 pm (on Thursday) and said the suggestion is good," Animal Husbandry Minister T Srinivas Yadav, who earlier sought special trains for migrant workers, said.
He quoted Reddy as having told him that a committee comprising himself and others met and discussed the issue and felt the suggestion was based on reality.