Nearly 200 migrant workers died in road accidents in India while returning to their village homes during the world’s longest coronavirus lockdown, a charity said yesterday.
Tens of thousands of people walked home from big cities after losing their jobs when one of the world’s strictest lockdowns was introduced and all public transport was suspended to contain the spread of the new coronavirus in late March.
More than 1,400 road accidents killed 750 people, including 198 migrant workers, between March 25 and May 31, according to the SaveLIFE Foundation, a charity that works towards improving road safety and emergency care in India.
The migrants lost their lives while walking, cycling and travelling in trucks and vans in intense heat, as well as in massive crashes involving state-organised buses, it said, blaming speeding and driver fatigue.
“With Covid-19 still very much around, we simply can’t afford to burden our already over-burdened healthcare system with road crash related trauma,” Piyush Tewari, head of the SaveLIFE Foundation, said in a statement.
“It is critical that states enhance enforcement to prevent road crashes.”
A speeding bus ran over and killed six migrant workers as they walked home last month, days after a train crushed 16 migrants who fell asleep on a railway line, sparking anger on social media.
After weeks of criticism and stories of hardship - including that of a 15-year-old girl who carried her injured father 1,200km across India by bike - the government is now running trains and buses to help people get home.
Thousands of migrants packed into trains that resumed services across the country on Monday, raising fears about the pandemic spreading through villages as new infections are increasing.
The SaveLIFE Foundation said almost half of road accident fatalities - involving 94 migrant workers - took place in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which is home to millions of migrants, followed by central Madhya Pradesh and eastern Bihar.
Meanwhile, several migrant workers going back on trains vowed not to return.
One of them is Rajkumari, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Gonda district who was at the New Delhi railway station yesterday to catch a train to her native place.
She said she would never return as there was no work in Delhi.
“We don’t have any work here. And as there is no income we are unable to pay the rent,” she said.
“We are not going to come back to Delhi and it is the reason why we are going back to our village with all our belongings,” she said.
Rajkumari said her husband worked as a daily labourer and since they don’t have any work there is no need to stay back.
She said she will go back to her village and will do farming in the fields as the season of sowing rice is coming.
Similar is the condition of Mukesh, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Deoria district.
He too said he will not return to Delhi.
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