A migrant worker from Bihar carries his belongings as he tries to cross the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border at Ghazipur to return to his home state on May 16. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
A survey by a non-governmental organization has reported that nearly 200 Indian migrant workers died in road accidents during the first two months of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
SaveLIFE Foundation said there were at least 1,461 accidents between March 25 and May 31, killing at least 750 people including 198 migrant workers.
“Unlike other countries in the world, migrant workers here were not handled properly. They were left on the road to defend themselves from hunger, disease and uncertainty, which is very unfortunate,” Father Jaison Vadassery, secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops’ of India’s (CCBI) commission for migrants, told UCA News.
“We are very sorry to say that the federal as well as state governments have failed to manage the exodus of migrant laborers after the nationwide lockdown started on March 25, but it is nothing new as they have always been treated as second-class citizens.
“Proper planning among central and state governments to transport migrant workers to their home states could have resulted in fewer casualties. Many were killed due to accidents, but what about the virus they may be carrying back to their villages? The government has to think about that.”
Less developed states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are the main sources of migrants who are mostly employed in construction, factories, domestic work, textiles, brick kilns, transportation and agriculture.
The SafeLIFE report cited fatigue among bus and truck drivers who were hired to transport migrants, speeding and poor road conditions as the top reasons for the deaths.
Those killed during their efforts to return home comprised 26.4 percent of the overall deaths during the lockdown, whereas essential workers represented 5.3 percent of deaths.
SafeLIFE focuses on collecting, compiling and generating authentic data and information on road safety and emergency care in India and across the world.
Based on original, expert-reviewed research and data, it proposes policy changes in two broad areas: accident prevention and post-accident response.
Its report said 68 percent of the overall deaths involved pedestrians, two-wheelers and three-wheelers, categorized as vulnerable road users.
Out of the four-phase lockdown, phase four was the deadliest overall in terms of road deaths with 322 fatalities (43 percent) and phase three was the deadliest in particular for migrant workers, the report said.
Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 94 deaths, followed by Madhya Pradesh (38), Bihar (16), Telangana (11) and Maharashtra (9), the report said.
“As the country is still fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, we simply cannot afford to burden our already overburdened healthcare system with road crash-related trauma,” said Piyush Tewari, head of the SaveLIFE Foundation.
The exodus of migrant workers from several states during the lockdown has become a humanitarian crisis, with thousands walking on roads and railway tracks, ignoring government pleas to remain where they are.
A speeding bus killed six migrant workers late last month, days after a train crushed 16 migrants who fell asleep on a railway line in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district.
In May, the federal government issued directives to states to ensure that migrant workers do not have to walk back to their home states. Government official Ajay Bhalla on May 15 directed state governments to urge migrants to take the Shramik Special trains.
Bhalla said states should make sure that no migrant worker has to resort to walking on roads or railway tracks and special attention must be given to women, children and the elderly.
Directives said district authorities should guide workers moving on foot to designated rest places, nearby bus terminals or railway stations by arranging transport.
According to railway officials, more than 5.6 million migrant workers have been taken home via Shramik Special trains.