India is soon to step into Lockdown 4.0 but if there’s one issue that’s been gnawing at it and needs to solved desperately, it’s making the lives of migrants better—either by making sure they reach home safely or by ensuring they and their families are healthy and well wherever they might be (like what Nagaland is doing). And yet, even after the tragic incident that happened on May 8, when a cargo train in Aurangabad ran over 16 migrant workers sleeping on train tracks while going back home to Madhya Pradesh, there have been several other cases of migrant workers on their way home being hit by vehicles.
Just earlier this morning, eight labourers died and over 54 suffered injuries after the truck they were traveling in was hit by a speeding bus in Madhya Pradesh’s Guna. The truck carried around 70 labourers, most of who were from Uttar Pradesh. This incident occurred just hours after at least six migrant workers were killed after they were hit by an Uttar Pradesh state bus near Muzaffarnagar.
These add on to similar unfortunate incidents that have taken place in the recent past as thousands of migrants continue to try getting back home. On May 12, four migrants on the move, including a woman and her daughter, were killed in separate road accidents in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. On May 10, five migrant labourers died and 15 were injured in Madhya Pradesh when a truck they were travelling in overturned in a village. On the same day as the train accident, a couple cycling back home with their children, died after being hit by a speeding vehicle. The children survived the accident.
The accidents of the migrants come in the wake of the government announcing ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ to get Indians stranded abroad back home. Akhilesh Yadav, the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, said in a tweet that roughly translates to, “First train and now bus, why are the lives of labourers so cheap? Why can’t the poor of the country come under the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’? It isn’t right to fly so high that the ground reality is ignored.”
The nationwide lockdown announced on March 24 has especially caused immense distress to the migrant labourers in the country. After the lockdown was announced, thousands of workers across the country set out for their homes on foot. After almost two months of the lockdown, the Indian Railways announced the operation of Shramik special trains for the migrant workers to get back home. The railways have now operated 642 'Shramik Special' trains across the country resulting in around 7.90 lakh passengers reaching their home states. Many more, though, cannot access these services.
While the death of the 16 migrant workers in Aurangabad has been the largest number of people killed in a single accident, more than 400 people have died in this coronavirus lockdown for reasons unrelated to the virus, according to some researchers—with causes ranging from exhaustion while walking home to death by suicide due to financial distress under the sudden lockdown. The UP government on May 7 also announced that it would be exempting all industries from almost all labour laws for three years, to boost economic activities—which means that laws like the Minimum Wages Act and Trade Union Acts would not be applicable. This move has led to concerns of a resurgence in “slave-like conditions for workers”.
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