Amid Omicron scare, railways would do due diligence before resuming providing bedrolls: Vaishnaw

New Delhi: Amid the scare of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw told the Rajya Sabha on Friday that the national transporter would do due diligence before resuming providing bedrolls to passengers in trains.

The railways had last month restored some of its services that it had suspended in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. This included the removal of the “special” tag from trains which brought down the prices of tickets and restarted the service of serving hot cooked meals.

However, the decision on restoring concessions and providing bedrolls is still pending.

“We were to start providing bedrolls. But after the threat of Omicron, we have decided to take the step after doing due diligence.

“This is not something on which we should take step in a haste. It is about the security of the nation. It is a question about the safety of everybody’s health,” Vaishnaw said in reply to a starred question in the Rajya Sabha.

The minister informed the House that mail and express trains are running on normal fair. He said the price of platform ticket has also been normalised.

According to the railways, the price of platform ticket was increased during the Covid pandemic to curb crowding at stations.

Vaishnaw also said that no railway station was shut down during lockdown.

As part of the nationwide lockdown, all passenger train services were suspended from March 23, 2020, according to the extant guidelines issued by the Government of India, he told the House.

However, freight services were continued to ensure the supply of essential commodities to different parts of the country, Vaishnaw said.

As of March 31, 2021, a total of 810.31 hectares of railway land was under encroachment which includes encroachment by poor people, he informed the Rajya Sabha.

The government identifies such encroached land by carrying out regular inspections at various levels. In case, any trespass is noticed which may eventually lead to encroachment, it is removed then and there, the minister said.

If the encroachments are of temporary nature in the shape of jhuggies, jhopries and squatters, the same are got removed in consultation and with the assistance of Railway Protection Force and local civil authorities, he explained.

For old encroachments, where the party is not amenable to persuasion, action is taken under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971 (PPE Act, 1971), as amended from time to time, Vaishnaw stated.

Rehabilitation and settlement of encroachers on railway land are not possible due to the operational and infrastructural needs of the railways.

Housing is a state subject and responsibility for providing alternative sites for rehabilitation/resettlement as well as bearing the cost for the same, vested with the state governments or the urban local bodies concerned, the minister stated.

During 2018, 2019, 2020 and the current year up to November, a total of 5,290 joint drives were conducted by the engineering department assisted by the RPF wherein a total of 10,832 encroachments have been removed from the railway area, he informed the House. PTI