Sixteen people were killed after a group of 21 migrant workers were run over by a goods train in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district on Friday.
Two of the workers died in hospital while 14 died on the spot.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for the families of the deceased.
Police said the group was returning to Madhya Pradesh and was walking towards Bhusawal from Jalna in Maharashtra after losing their jobs during the national lockdown to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Because of the lockdown, they were probably not expecting any trains to be moving, an official told Reuters.
The migrants hailed from MP’s Shahadol and Umaria districts and preferred to walk by the side of railway tracks to avoid police checkposts on the roads. They had walked continuously for about 10 hours and crossed over 35 kilometres when they decided to stop and rest for a while
They slept on the rail tracks due to exhaustion, a police official told PTI. They were mowed down by the train at 5.15 am.
“We had walked a long distance and at around 5 am we stopped to drink water. But we were tired and fell asleep on and near the tracks where we were sitting. At that moment the train came and ran,” one of the survivors told Marathi channel ABP Majha.
“Four people survived the incident since they were sitting away from the tracks. The survivors are being counselled and we are trying to know from them what exactly happened,” Mokshada Patil, the Superintendent of Police, Aurangabad rural told reporters after visiting the accident spot.
The Railways said the driver of the goods train had tried to stop the train but eventually hit them.
The ministry said it had ordered an inquiry into the incident. Those injured in the accident were taken to Aurangabad Civil Hospital.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed anguish over the loss of lives due to the accident. “Have spoken to Railway Minister Shri Piyush Goyal and he is closely monitoring the situation. All possible assistance required is being provided,” he tweeted.
Since the nationwide lockdown was announced in March to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, thousands of migrant workers have been walking kilometres to return to their hometowns as public transport and inter-state travel was closed.
Migrant workers and daily wage earners are among the 400 million Indians at risk of being pushed deeper into poverty because of the pandemic, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has said.
The government began running special trains for migrants from May 1 after multiple groups protested, demanding they be allowed to return home. According to the Railways, 163 such trains have operated, with over 1.6 lakh migrants ferried home so far.