New Delhi: The Indian Railways first converted hundreds of rail coaches to make 5,150 isolation wards for Covid-19 patients and then left all of them unused and this happened because the engineers did not get any order from the Ministry of Railways for operating these coaches, highly placed sources in the Indian Railways have disclosed.

As per sources, the engineers of railway workshops, including Delhi’s Jagdhari workshop, spent sleepless nights to convert hundreds of rail coaches into isolation wards for Covid-19 patients, but till now, all these isolation wards are lying unused and only a few of them have made way to platforms of the railway stations.

“We converted around 600 coaches into isolation wards by removing berths from these coaches and adding medical facilities, including oxygen supply cylinders, lavatory-cum-bathrooms, curtains, drip bottle holders, dustbins, mosquito nets, besides other facilities that are required in a hospital ward, but unfortunately most of these isolation wards are lying unused and the engineers are considering to remodel these wards into normal rail coaches,” a source in the Northern Railways told The Sunday Guardian.

According to this source, engineers across railway workshop locations, converted rail coaches into 5,150 isolation wards in less than a month, but it took almost two months for the Ministry of Railways to issue standard operating procedures (SOPs) for use of the rail coach isolation wards.

The rail coaches were converted into isolation wards under the Indian Railways’ Covid-19 containment response plan and these measures cost crores of rupees to the exchequer. But the Ministry of Railways allegedly did not bother to issue direction for operation of the converted rail coaches and it failed to issue SOPs for the same.

Though delayed, last month the Ministry of Railways directed all zonal heads (operation) to put these isolation wards in use. In its direction, the Ministry of Railways said that SOPs for deploying these coaches have been issued and according to the SOPs, the coach isolation wards can be used by persons with mild symptoms of virus infection. The direction also said that these coaches shall be deployed in Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha. “The lockdown created connectivity problems and ordinary citizens were not even allowed to move out of their homes and in such circumstances, the idea that the isolation wards will be used by these people at railway stations was not practical. The  exercise was not logical, but after the lockdown ends, the isolation ward coaches can be used in some manner,” a senior official of the Indian Railways told The Sunday Guardian.