The Congress, which is a part of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition government that also comprises the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are locked in a tussle over the reopening of temples and suburban trains, despite the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
The BJP had tried to corner the MVA coalition government over the reopening of temples in Maharashtra last week, but now the Congress has questioned the railways’ refusal to give entry to women in suburban train services –a lifeline for the densely populated Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) – despite the state government’s order that was issued on October 16.
Sachin Sawant, general secretary, Maharashtra Congress Committee (MCC) and a party spokesperson, on Tuesday raised the question and alleged that the Railways has deliberately barred women from availing suburban train services at the Centre’s insistence.
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“The state government held four meetings with the Railway officials regarding allowing women commuters to travel by suburban trains in the MMR during non-peak hours from October 17. However, on October 16, railway authorities expressed their inability to give permission. There is a standard operating procedure (SOP) in place as far as train services are concerned. Why does Railways want a fresh permission?” Sawant questioned.
On October 16, the state government had announced plans to allow all women commuters to travel by suburban trains from the following day.
However, both Central and Western Railway authorities intimated the state government at the last moment that permission would not be granted without carrying out an assessment of the additional burden of passengers in train services.
The Congress alleged that it was a deliberate attempt to stop women from commuting by trains and blamed the Union Minister for Railways Piyush Goyal for the “arbitrary decision”.
Sawant said women commuters were being forced to use other modes of conveyance, which were not only causing them inconvenience but had also raised safety concerns.
He took potshots at the BJP’s state leadership for its radio silence over the issue even though it is vocal about the reopening of temples. He cited the ongoing Navratri festival, as a celebration of women power.
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Earlier last week, the BJP had cornered the state government over the reopening of temples and had staged statewide protests outside shrines.
The BJP state unit’s top brass had tried to put the MVA coalition government on the mat by citing that the latter was oblivious to the public’s faith even though it had allowed liquor shops to reopen amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had also written to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray taunting him over his intransigence about reopening places of worship.
Central Railway authorities have responded to Sawant’s allegations.
“Railway is in full preparedness and is running 1,406 special suburban services. We have added 419 services to the existing 987. State government authorities are requested to finalise the modalities because of the Covid-19 pandemic and convey them to us,” Central Railway authorities tweeted.
However, Sawant was not assuaged by the Central Railway authorities’ explanation.
“There are around four lakh people, who belong to essential services and commute by suburban trains daily. A Covid-19-related SOP is in place. No new directives are needed. Besides, railways has the data about estimated women passengers,” he argued.
Chief secretary Sanjay Kumar has written a letter to Central and Western railways instructing them to implement the decision at the earliest. “As per the decision taken during joint meetings with all the stakeholders, we have requested you to allow all women commuters to travel during non peak hours from October 17. The decision is yet to be implemented. The women commuters may be allowed to board the trains at the earliest,” the letter read.
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