The Railways has ferried over 31 lakh migrant workers on board 2,317 Shramik Special trains since May 1, almost seven lakh more than the initial projection of 24 lakh, according to official data.
The initial estimation of migrant workers to be transported back to their home towns were based on details provided by various state governments to the zonal offices of the Railways in late April when it was deciding on protocols to run the special trains, officials said.
However, the national transporter said that it does not have current details of the total numbers of stranded migrant labourers who want to return to their homes and are operating trains based on the requirements of the states.
The Shramik Special trains are being operated primarily on the requests of the states which want to send the migrant workers to their home states. The Railways is bearing 85 per cent of the total cost of running each of the trains while the share of the states is 15 per cent.
"The Railways is spending an estimated Rs 80 lakh on each of these trains on an average," an official told PTI.
The coronavirus lockdown has had a devastating impact on the economy as well as on the livelihoods of lakhs of migrant workers.
The lockdown had shone the spotlight on the miseries of the migrant workers whose journeys on foot from several urban centres to their villages hundreds of kilometres away had grabbed headlines for almost the last two months.
There were incidents of many of them being killed in road accidents. A number of migrant labourers were even killed by a speeding train after they fell asleep on the tracks.
According to the official data with the Railways, provided to it by the states in April-end, the Western Railways, which covers states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, received requests to ferry around seven lakh migrant workers to states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Assam, Haryana and Odisha.
The Southern Railways, which operates in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Puducherry, received a list of 11.4 lakh migrants to be ferried back to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Assam, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Similarly, the Central Railways received requests to ferry 2.94 lakh migrant workers while the Northern Railways was approached to transport 2.84 lakh. The South Central Railways received requests to ferry 1.86 lakh workers.
"As of now, we do not have a consolidated data on how many of these workers want to go home," said another Railway official.
"In fact, we have already surpassed the estimations that the state governments have given us of stranded people. The Railways has the capacity to run up to 300 trains daily if needed," he said.
The Railway is currently operating 15 pairs of special trains since May 12 on Rajdhani routes, in addition to the Shramik Special trains. It will also operate 100 pairs of special mail/express trains from June 1.
"We will continue to run these migrant special trains as long as we receive requests from states," said a Railway official.
Out of the 31 lakh migrant workers who returned to their homes travelling by Shramik Express trains, around 12 lakh came back to Uttar Pradesh, over seven lakh to Bihar and more than one lakh each to Jharkhand and Rajasthan, according to the Railways.
Officials also said that the Railways is getting requests from states like Bihar and West Bengal where people want to return to cities where they were working.