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COVID-19 Lockdown: Over 150 Migrant Workers Die in Accidents While Walking Back Home

An analysis of news reports in the national media shows that more than 150 migrant workers have been killed in various accidents since March 24.
COVID-19 Lockdown: Over 150 Migrant Workers Die in Accidents While Walking Back to Home

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Reuters

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown on March 24 to curb the further spread of the novel coronavirus, large populations of migrant workers have been stranded without any means of survival. The initial days of lockdown saw large groups of these migrant workers walking thousands of kilometers to reach home from cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Bhopal etc. after finding it difficult to make the ends meet without having any work. As there were no transportation facilities, they had no choice other than walking. With the lockdown renewed for the third time—albeit with relaxations—the workers, who do not expect to go back to work anytime soon and earn, are on the streets again, tired of waiting to be taken home by trains or buses. 

Many of these migrant workers who were on their way home, however, could not finish their journey. An analysis of news reports in the national media shows that more than 150 migrant workers have been killed in various accidents since March 24. Hundreds of workers have sustained injuries. 

On May 8, 16 migrant workers were crushed to death by a freight train in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. The workers, who were walking from Jalna to Bhusawal to catch the ‘special’ train to return to their native place in Madhya Pradesh, had been sleeping on the tracks when the train ran over them.

On May 14, at least eight died and 55 sustained injuries when a truck carrying the workers collided with a bus in Madhya Pradesh’s Guna. The deceased were residents of Unnao and Raebareli districts of Uttar Pradesh, according to police. 

Read more: Death Made Them Visible

On May 16, in Uttar Pradesh’s Auraiya, at least 24 migrant labourers were killed, while 37 others were left injured when a truck in which they were travelling collided with another vehicle. 

Nine migrant labourers were killed on May 19 when the truck carrying them overturned in an attempt to avert a head-on collision with a bus in Bihar'’s Bhagalpur district. The workers had started their journey on bicycles six days ago from Kolkata and they might have boarded the truck somewhere en route.

These figures are however based only on the media reports. There could be more such incidents which have not been reported.

Referring to the Aurangabad incident, P Sainath earlier told Firstpost: “How many English publications even bothered to give names of the workers crushed under the train? They just had to go faceless, and nameless. That is our attitude towards the poor. If it had been a plane crash, you would have helplines giving information. Even if there had been 300 killed in the crash, their names would appear in the newspapers. But 16 poor guys from Madhya Pradesh, eight of them Gond Adivasis, who gives a sh*t? They were walking along those railway lines as a guide to home—to a station from where they hoped to get a train home.”

An analysis by SaveLife Foundation, an independent, non-profit NGO advocating road safety and emergency medical care across India, says that the death toll in road accidents among migrant workers stands at 159 between March 24 and May 18. The analysis also estimated that 630 migrants would have been injured in these road mishaps.

Most of these accidents have been reported during the third phase of lockdown (May 4 - May 17) even though the government had announced the ‘Shramik Special’ trains to ferry stranded migrant workers to their native places. The first Shramik train ferried passengers on May 1.

Though the government says that more than a million have been ferried by over 1,000 Shramik Special trains as on May 15, many have been evidently left out. Many of them could not afford to pay for the special train tickets and some might have failed to get tickets as well.

(With inputs from PTI)

Read more: Is Speaking Up for the Poor 'Dirty Politics'?

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