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Speeding bus kills Indian migrant workers trying to walk home

by Annie Banerji | @anniebanerji | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 14 May 2020 17:04 GMT

Migrant workers with their faces covered and carrying their belongings, walk along a railway track to return to their home state of eastern Bihar, during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ghaziabad, in the outskirts of New Delhi, India, May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

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Scores of migrant workers have died trying to get home, highlighting the risks the poor have been exposed to during the lockdown

By Annie Banerji

NEW DELHI, May 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A speeding bus ran over and killed six Indian migrant workers as they tried to walk home, police said on Thursday, days after the death of a group of migrants who fell asleep on a railway line shocked the country.

Five others were injured in the accident late on Wednesday, which comes as tens of thousands of distressed migrants try to get home after work - and most public transport - vanished overnight when India imposed a lockdown in late March.

The men were walking from the northern state of Haryana to their home state of Bihar hundreds of miles away, said Abhishek Yadav, a senior police official.

Neither the labour nor the road transport and highway ministries responded to requests for comment.

Dozens of migrant workers have fallen sick or died on their way home, either from fatigue or in accidents, underscoring the extreme risks the poor have been exposed to under measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

On Thursday, India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said it was up to individual states to take care of migrants, including providing them freshly cooked meals.

"As regards migrants who are walking, it is very, very touchy and there is a tug at my heart when I watch this," she said at a press conference as she announced a package of aid to help migrant workers.

"But it is up to state governments - from where they are moving to where they are moving - to make those provisions."

Facing public pressure, the government has organised special trains and buses to transport migrant labourers home. On Thursday it said more than one million people had reached their home states by train.

But Anindita Adhikari of the Stranded Workers Action Network, which helps such migrant labourers, said many were still trying to get home on foot because registering for the transport was too difficult.

"How you get a seat on these trains, informing people about train schedules to prevent crowding and increasing the frequency of trains - these things are needed," she said.

The latest incidents came nearly a week after 16 migrant workers, who had fallen asleep on a railway track after exhaustion from walking, were crushed by a train in Maharashtra.

Small bundles of food, footwear and other belongings were scattered on the tracks after the accident.

Another eight migrant labourers were killed and about 50 injured on Thursday when the truck they were travelling home in collided with a bus. Two migrant workers and a baby were killed in a similar accident a day earlier.

Sitharaman said the government would spend 35 billion rupees ($463 million) on food for nearly 80 million migrant workers for the next two months and offer employment under a rural jobs programme.

($1 = 75.5489 Indian rupees)

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(Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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