Nearly 200 migrant workers killed on India's roads during coronavirus lockdown

India suspended all public transport, forcing migrants to travel home by foot, bike and truck.

Nepalese migrant workers in India
Nepalese migrant workers crossed the border to work in India’s resource-rich Meghalaya State. Image: Wilson Center - ECSP, CC BY-SA 2.0

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 on Tuesday.

Tens of thousands of people walked home from India’s 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.

India’s cases of coronavirus crossed 190,000 on Monday, overtaking France to become seventh highest in the world, as the government eased back on a two-month lockdown on 1.3 billion people in all but high-risk zones.

“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.

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, SaveLIFE Foundation

After weeks of criticism and stories of hardship - including that of a 15-year-old girl who carried her injured father 1,200 km 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.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.

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