News and media outlet ABP Majha, on the basis of an internal memo of South Central Railway, reported that a special train has been announced to take the stranded migrant workers home.
Thousands of migrant workers are stranded in Maharashtra due to the lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 22nd March which was further extended till 3rd May yesterday. Yesterday i.e 14th March was the last day of the 21-day nationwide lockdown declared by the PM. Migrant workers in Mumbai gathered at Bandra station, demanding that arrangements be made to help them return to their respective hometowns. The gathering led to chaos as India is already badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a situation where community transmission of the COVID-19 could take place, such a gathering could have done potential harm to India’s efforts against fighting the pandemic. However, many social media users are alleging that the migrant workers gathered at Bandra station because of a report carried by ABP Majha. Joining the cacophony, many senior journalists like Barkha Dutt, Sudhir Suryavanshi and many others went a step ahead and alleged that a circular/decision issued/taken by the Indian Railways is the root of the migrant crisis in Mumbai.
Barkha Dutt, however, first made the aforementioned claim where she demanded a clarification from the Ministry of Railways and later gave it a clean-chit and shifted the blame on ABP Majha. It has become an often practiced exercise by the media outlets and professionals to first make a claim and then fact-checks it. In this case, Barkha plays the roles of both the claimer and the fact-checker. Barkha first made a series of tweets to allege that the decision taken by the Railway Ministry led to the booking of thousands of rail tickets. She further claimed that a letter from the Secunderabad Railway division supposedly led to rumors of trains being functional.
However, when Barkha was corrected by Twitter users, she shifted the blame from the Indian Railways to ABP Majha.
Barkha Dutt finally did what she was supposed to do before making the aforementioned claim i.e to contact the officials for a statement. However, the tweet made by Ms. Dutt after she spoke to the Indian Railways officials, reads, “Spoke to officials in @RailMinIndia. See note- no special trains for migrants. This was wrongly reported by the media (ABP Majha) creating a flood of migrants at the station. Also say bookings “often done months in advance, 10-15 percent of daily travel. Cannot be linked to Bandra event”
After doing a fact-check of a claim made by herself, Ms. Dutt finally pronounced the judgment and questioned the report carried by ABP Majha saying the outlet owes people some explanations for triggering a viral rumor on trains running.
An analysis of the above-mentioned tweets made by the senior journalist Barkha Dutt, we detected a contradiction between numerous tweets that she made within hours. Being a senior and responsible journalist and the one who opposes the click-bait culture Indian media has thoroughly embraced, the “Fact-Check” which she performed later was expected before making the claim as it is difficult enough to undo the damage caused by rumor-mongering or fake news peddling.
After getting a clean-chit from Barkha Dutt, Indian Railways had to face more heat, as another senior journalist namely ‘Sudhir Suryavanshi’, who works for ‘The New Indian Express’ demanded a probe against Indian Railways’ role in the crisis arisen at Mumbai’s Bandra because of the gathering of thousands of migrant workers. Sudhir, who is known for exclusive reporting pertaining to his home state of Maharashtra, alleged that the Indian Railways issued circulars notifying the ‘functioning of trains to clear the stranded laborers of unreserved segment’ as quoted by ABP Majha.
Sudhir while reporting the arrest of the ABP Majha journalist who reported the functioning of trains, reiterated his claim that the Indian Railways has issued such a circular and therefore a probe must be ordered against the Indian Railways so the culprits can be punished.
We first checked the official website of South Central Railway to check if one such ‘circular’ was issued or not but we didn’t find mention of any such circular there.
We then analyzed the alleged ‘circular’ issued by the South Central Railway and we found that it is not a ‘circular’ but an internal memo. We also found that nowhere in the memo is it mentioned that the Railways have ordered the functioning of trains, in fact, the subject line itself reads, “Proposal for Jansadharan Special Trains-Reg.”
After checking the official website, we further checked the divisions that come under South Central Railway and we found that none of its six divisions are part of the state of Maharashtra.
After knowing that the letter was not even issued by the Central Railway which covers a large part of the state of Maharashtra, we further checked the Twitter handle of Central Railway for more information on the issue. We found that Central Railway retweeted a clarification tweet by South Central Railway that reads, “CLARIFICATION: A communication related to internal planning of SCR to assess demand for train services is being misinterpreted in some sections as a decision to run special trains for migrant labor. There is NO such proposal & ALL Passenger Trains stands CANCELLED till 03.05.2020”
We also found a Twitter thread by the Ministry of Railways which was retweeted by the Central Railway. One of the tweets in the thread reads, “It is clarified that all Passenger train services are fully canceled, across the nation, till 3rd May 2020 and there is no plan to run any special train to clear the passenger rush. All concerned may pl.take note of the same and help us in resisting any wrong news in this regard”
We searched for the report published by ABP Majha which is supposed to be the basis of migrant workers gathering in Mumbai’s Bandra and we found that the report was heavily edited.
The original report can be accessed here.
The updated report can be accessed here.
After analyzing both the reports thoroughly, we found that a whole paragraph was removed from the initial version of the report and two new paragraphs including the clarification from the South Central Railway was included.
As mentioned in the aforementioned ABP Majha report, Mumbai CST was said to be the only station in Mumbai Jansadharan Express that would allegedly pass through.
When we checked the distance between Mumbai CST and Bandra Station ( The former is the place which was apparently the place to board the train from, the latter is the place where migrant workers gathered in large numbers), we found that it is as much as 15.5 kilometers apart.
Now the question worth asking here is that if the ABP Majha report is responsible for the gathering then why did the migrant workers gather at Bandra Station instead of Mumbai CST which was supposed to be the only boarding station in Mumbai?
In addition to the evidence presented above, we also found a tweet made by the official Twitter handle of the Ministry of Railways that was made to clear the air about a hoax regarding Indian Railways planning to resume its service and the issuance of certain protocols to ensure the safety of the passengers. This hoax has been previously debunked by Newschecker in the past, a fact-check report for the same can be found here.
Additionally, we also contacted a railway official to know more about the procedure to order the running of a train. The official informed us, “The letter is not an order but just a proposal by the CCM. The Chief Passenger Train Manager is authorized to announce the running of a train but he has to seek the approval of the board. Since the letter was not a final decision, to term it an official order is wrong.”
As it is evident from our investigation, the Indian Railways did not issue any circular that led to the gathering of stranded migrant workers in the state of Maharashtra but was just a proposal by the South Central Railway. Hence, it can be concluded that ABP Majha misrepresented the internal letter from the South Central Railway and reported the announcement of a special train for stranded migrant workers while Indian Railways did not make any such announcement but The New Indian Express journalist Sudhir Suryavanshi falsely accused the Indian Railways of issuing a circular regarding the announcement of a special train. ‘Misleading’ claims made by senior journalist Barkha Dutt were later corrected in her own ‘fact-check’.
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