Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 12 July 2020

Train runs over Indian workers returning home amid coronavirus lockdown

At least 14 members of the group were killed as they slept on the tracks

A freight train ran over a group of workers sleeping on the tracks in India's western Maharashtra state on Friday, killing at least 14, railway and police officials said.

The group had stopped to rest while walking to the town of Bhusawal to catch a train that would take them to their home state of Madhya Pradesh, police said.

They are among tens of thousands of migrant workers who have been left without jobs and without transport to return to their homes amid India's coronavirus lockdown. With the restrictions being eased over the past week, some state governments began organising special train and bus services to bring these workers home.

According to railway officials and police in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra where the accident occurred, 14 workers died on the spot and five were injured.

They worked at a steel company in the town of Jalna and were walking to catch a special train to Madhya Pradesh from the station in Bhusawal, a distance of about 100 kilometres, police officials told the Indian Express newspaper.

"They had been walking all night, they were exhausted and fell asleep on the tracks," a police officer said.

Because of the lockdown, they were probably not expecting any trains to be moving, an official said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "extremely anguished" by the loss of lives and that "all possible assistance" was being provided.

The nationwide lockdown, imposed by Mr Modi on March 25 with four hours' notice, has hit India’s 400 million internal migrants the hardest. A vast majority of them labour on construction sites, operate factories, or clean homes in cities, contributing a combined 40 per cent to national output but earning paltry wages and denied job security.

Critics of Mr Modi say his government has not done enough to help those who have been hit the hardest by the lockdown. The measure has been extended twice and is now scheduled to be lifted on May 17.

"Shocked by the deaths of migrant workers hit by train. We should be ashamed of how we treat our nation-builders," said Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party.

India has been reporting steadily increasing numbers of infections despite the lockdown. Authorities on Friday announced 3,390 more cases detected and 103 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

Total cases in the country of 1.3 billion people now stand at more than 56,000, with 1,886 fatalities, according to health ministry data. More than 16,500 people have recovered.

The coastal state of Maharashtra remains the worst affected with almost 20,000 cases and 651 deaths.

Updated: May 8, 2020 12:24 PM

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