Palghar (Maharashtra): Hundreds of irate commuters bound for Mumbai, Thane and other places staged an impromptu rail-roko agitation at Nala Sopara station on Wednesday to demand resumption of regular suburban train services discontinued due to spike in COVID cases.
The agitated commuters — mostly working in private companies or factories in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region or MMR — said they were left stranded as the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation or MSRTC, which operates services to Mumbai, Thane, and Raigad allegedly stopped plying buses on Wednesday.
Left in the lurch, the commuters marched to Nala Sopara station, with many squatting on the tracks and halting special local trains. They demanded ing that they should be allowed to travel regularly on suburban locals and not just on special services.
Later, the GRP reached the spot and dispersed the crowd peacefully.
Commuters from Mumbai, Thane, Palghar and Raigad (MMR) have been demanding that the local train services — the lifeline of the country’s commercial capital — be resumed immediately or more categories of workers are permitted to travel by special services operated for a month now.
An MSRTC spokesperson said that usually around 150 state transport buses are operated there daily, which are now being augmented to 300 on Wednesday to clear the unexpected rush, promising another 200 to be added in the next couple of days, totaling 500 services daily.
“For the past two days, many commuters who travelled by the special trains were not allowed to board owing to various reasons. Consequently, the crowds were suddenly diverted to state transport buses. Since we strictly adhere to physical distancing norms and allow around 22 passengers per bus, the additional passengers compounded the problem. We hope to resolve it in the next couple of days,” the spokesperson told IANS.
Rail Yatri Parishad President Subhash Gupta warned that the incident in Nala Sopara is an “indicator of things to come” in the coming days if the state government doesn’t take urgent steps to improve public transport.
“People in the MMR are spending 5-6 hours daily only to commute, which was normally less than two hours. They are agitated as suburban trains are not running and buses are inadequate. We urge the government to immediately deploy more ST or private buses for the commuters before the situation worsens,” Gupta said.
Incidentally, the MMR is a pandemic hotspot that has notched 206,221 Covid-19 cases and 8,402 fatalities — the highest in the country.