The nationwide lockdown which was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 to curb the further spread of novel coronavirus, was on Sunday extended for the fourth time till May 31, albeit with fewer restrictions.
While a complete nationwide lockdown, announced at a four-hour notice through a televised address on March 24 evening, was considered a bold step in India’s efforts to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, it left a large population of migrant workers stranded with almost no means of survival.
After facing difficulties to meet basic ends without work, these migrants, in the absence of any means of transport, found no choice but to walk back home.
Unfortunately, not all of them reached their respective destinations.
Several of the migrants who either walked or travelled in other private vehicles met with accidents throughout the lockdown period.
An analysis of news reports in national media shows that more than 100 migrant workers were killed in accidents since March 24, while hundreds of others sustained injured. Moreover, many of the injured in such accidents were reported to have suffered critical injuries and the death toll could be higher.
In fact, a similar analysis by SaveLife Foundation, an independent, non-profit NGO advocating road safety and emergency medical care across India, put the death toll in road accidents among migrant workers at 159 between March 24 and May 18. The analysis estimated that 630 migrants were injured in these road mishaps.
It is to be noted that these figures are based on accidents and incidents that were reported in the media and, therefore, the numbers are not exhaustive. The actual death toll could be higher.
Among one of the major and recent incidents, at least 24 migrant labourers were killed, while 37 others were left injured when a truck in which they were travelling in collided with another vehicle in Uttar Pradesh’s Auraiya on May 16.
"The accident took place in Mihauli in which 24 people died. A trailer truck carrying around 50 migrant labourers was coming from Rajasthan and it collided with a DCM truck. The accident took place on May 16 between 3.00 am and 3.30 am," Circle Officer, Auraiya, Surendranath Yadav had said.
Likewise, at least eight died and 55 sustained injuries when a truck they were traveling in collided with a bus in Madhya Pradesh’s Guna on May 14. The deceased were residents of Unnao and Raebareli districts of Uttar Pradesh, according to police, who also said that the truck carrying the migrant labourers was going to Unnao.
In another incident, 16 migrant workers were crushed to death by a freight train in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district on May 8. The workers were walking from Jalna to Bhusawal to catch the ‘special’ train to return to their native place in Madhya Pradesh. They were sleeping on the tracks when the train ran over them.
A majority of migrant deaths in accidents to place during the third phase of the lockdown (May 4 - May 17) despite the fact that the government announced the ’Shramik Special’ trains to ferry stranded migrant workers to their native places. The first such train ferried passengers on May 1.
The government has claimed that more than a million migrants have been ferried by over 1,000 ‘shramik specials’ as on May 15. However, it may not be enough since thousands of labourers continue to walk as many could not managed to get a ticket for these ’special’ trains, while others simply could not afford it.
While the economic disruption caused by the pandemic and the lockdown remained a cause of concern, the failure to provide authoritative solutions for the unprecedented migrant crisis, even after more than 50 days of the lockdown, has raised questions over the planning of the country’s Covid-19 response.