Aurangabad- At least 16 migrant workers sleeping on rail tracks were crushed to death by a goods train in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra on Friday morning, police said.
Tens of thousands of people have been walking home from India’s big cities after being laid off because of the lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus since late March.
Under the lockdown, all public transport has been suspended so migrant workers heading home often have to walk long distances to get there.
The government has extended the lockdown until May 17.
“They had been walking all night, they were exhausted and fell asleep on the tracks,” a police officer said.
The workers, who were walking to Bhusawal from Jalna in central Maharashtra had fallen asleep on the track, an official at the Karmad police station told PTI.
“The labourers, working in a steel factory in Jalna, left for their home state on foot last night. They came till Karmad and slept off on the tracks as they were tired,” police officer Santosh Khetmalas said.
Fourteen workers lost their lives in the accident, while two others were injured, he said, adding three labourers who were also part of the group survived as they were sleeping some distance away from the rail tracks.
Two of the injured later died in hospital, one report said.
The migrant workers, rendered jobless due to the coronavirus-enforced lockdown and desperate to go to their native places, were walking along the rail tracks apparently to escape police attention.
Distraught and penniless migrant workers have often faced police wrath in India for being out in the lockdown with videos on socila media showing ruthless beatings and humiliation meted out to workers walking home.
Many are trudging great distances in the blistering heat through fields and forests to get home.
Because of the lockdown, they were probably not expecting any trains to be moving, an official said.
A video clip from the scene of the tragedy shows the bodies of workers lying on the tracks and nearby with their meagre personal belongings scattered around.
The opposition and activists have pointed out that the government has arranged planes to bring back Indians from overseas, while leaving migrant workers stranded in big cities with little food or cash.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his “anguish at the loss of lives” in the accident. “All possible assistance required is being provided,” he tweeted.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, said he was “shocked by the deaths of migrant workers”. “We should be ashamed of how we treat our nation-builders,” he said.
Over the past week, some state governments facing public pressure organised trains and buses to bring back migrant workers.
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