File pic of Union railway minister Piyush Goyal
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the "innovative idea" days before the lockdown to convert railway coaches into isolation wards for supplementing efforts to tackle Covid-19, railway minister Piyush Goyal said on Tuesday.
"It was Prime Minister's idea even before lockdown. One day he called me and asked me whether railway coaches can be converted into isolation wards. I was taken aback. I had not even thought about it. It was an innovative idea that the Prime Minister came up with. Railway employees worked hard and developed the entire design in consultation with the Health Ministry," he said.
The minister was speaking at the India Foundation Dialogue 70 via video conference.
He said that over 5,000 coaches have been converted in which 80,000 isolation beds are now ready.
Goyal lauded the employees for their work amid the coronavirus crisis to ensure supply of essential items across the country.
"Since March, Railways has moved freight trains non-stop throughout this period ensuring adequate supplies of foodgrain, fertilizer, milk, medicines, coal petroleum products to very far-flung areas. Nowhere in the country, you have heard of food shortages of essential supplies. I think this selfless service of railway employees is quite heroic. Not a single railway employee suggested that he will not come to work due to coronavirus fear," he said.
Goyal said that around 4,611 Shramik specials ferried over 63 lakh stranded migrants to their respective destinations.
He said meals and water were provided during the journey.
"Till June 18, 1.85 crore meals, 3.12 crore drinking water packets were provided to migrants during their journey,"
He also said that there was clogging of some routes, mostly UP-Bihar stretch between May 24 and May 28 due to rush and 71 trains were diverted. "Sharmik Specials played an important role in taking the migrants back home safely and comfortably," he said.
"Right now there is no demand for migrant trains. No Shramik train ran yesterday," he said.
The minister said that Railways was able to make personal protective equipment, masks, sanitisers for its own requirements without depending on anyone else.
He said that at present trains are not running to their capacity as passengers are still not ready to travel in public transport due to pandemic.
"It's the first time in 167 year history of railways that we don't have passenger trains running to full capacity. We started 125 pairs of trains across the country as special (trains) but we have not still reached the full potential of our passenger traffic. The average occupancy is around 70 per cent. Very few trains are going full and passengers are still not ready to travel in public transport," he said.