Wages halted, vic­tims be­gan to walk

WITH NO OP­TIONS Po­lice of­fi­cials say group was pre­pared to walk to sev­eral trans­port hubs in search of a train back home af­ter em­ployer failed to pay salaries pend­ing for weeks

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - SPOTLIGHT - HT Cor­re­spon­dents let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com n

MUMBAI: With a hand­ful of clothes in their lug­gage and pack­ets of ro­tis and chut­ney in a cou­ple of lunch­boxes, a group of 21 men be­gan walk­ing from Jalna, where they worked in a steel fac­tory, in an at­tempt to find a train that would take them back to their home­towns in Mad­hya Pradesh.

Af­ter walk­ing for around four hours, they left the main road at Bad­na­pur and started fol­low­ing the train tracks in or­der to avoid po­lice pick­ets.

Af­ter cov­er­ing around 36 kilo­me­tres in 8-9 hours, ac­cord­ing to po­lice of­fi­cials who spoke to some of the men, they were too ex­hausted to con­tinue and de­cided to sleep on the tracks.

Around 5:15am, 16 of the men were run over by a freight train.

“A group of 20 stranded labour­ers started walk­ing from Jalna. They de­cided to take rest and most of them lied on rail tracks,” su­per­in­ten­dent of po­lice Mok­shada Patil said.

Images and videos taken by peo­ple at the site showed a trail of ripped lug­gage bags and ro­tis, with the in­ci­dent prompt­ing out­rage by po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and the Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion is­su­ing a no­tice to the Ma­ha­rash­tra govern­ment.

“They were not even sure of the route they had to take and de­cided to try their luck first at Au­rangabad, then two rail junc­tions Man­mad and Bhu­sawal. Had they been prop­erly in­formed about the train planned from Au­rangabad on Fri­day, they prob­a­bly would have not met with the ac­ci­dent,” said a po­lice of­fi­cer from Kar­mad, ask­ing not to be named.

The spot where the men were run over falls un­der the Kar­mad po­lice ju­ris­dic­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to one of the survi­now vors, the men de­cided to make the jour­ney af­ter the con­trac­tor who ar­ranged for their em­ploy­ment at a steel man­u­fac­tur­ing unit re­neged on his as­sur­ance to get them their wages on May 7. The men had not been paid in over a month due to the na­tion­wide lock­down, one of the survivors told local me­dia.

“Our fam­ily mem­bers were dis­tressed and wanted us to re­turn at the ear­li­est. We tried to get passes for the spe­cial trains but did not get any help from any of the au­thor­i­ties. Fi­nally, we started around 7pm on Thurs­day and re­tired on the tracks. We were so tired that could not even dis­cuss the risk of sleep­ing on the tracks,” said Viren­dra Singh, one of three peo­ple who slept on a clear­ing next to the track and sur­vived.

Singh and the oth­ers saw the goods train com­ing and im­me­di­ately raised an alarm but it went un­heard, said Patil.

Later on Fri­day, the South Cen­tral rail­way in a state­ment said the driver had seen the sleep­ing men and had even tried to wake them up by honk­ing but failed to save their lives.

Across Ma­ha­rash­tra, as in sev­eral other states such as Ra­jasthan, Te­lan­gana and Kar­nataka, peo­ple who had mi­grated to th­ese states for work are now mak­ing pun­ish­ing journeys back to their home­towns and vil­lages af­ter be­ing sacked due to the shut­down of the econ­omy.

In cities across Ma­ha­rash­tra, long queues of mi­grant work­ers have been re­ported in re­cent days out­side po­lice sta­tions and hos­pi­tals for fit­ness cer­tifi­cates from doc­tors and to sub­mit th­ese with an iden­tity card to po­lice. How­ever, some mi­grants al­leged they were charged ~500 for the fit­ness cer­tifi­cate.

On Thurs­day, the state govern­ment is­sued a clar­i­fi­ca­tion that there is no need to at­tach a med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate to the reg­is­tra­tion form re­quired to fa­cil­i­tate the jour­ney.

“About 1 lakh peo­ple have reached their re­spec­tive vil­lages safely. In the next few days, it is planned that all the stranded work­ers in the state will reach their homes prop­erly and there is a con­tin­u­ous co­or­di­na­tion with the rail­ways,” the CM’s of­fice said.

As per the Ma­ha­rash­tra govern­ment, the state is run­ning 4,729 re­lief camps where 428,734 mi­grant labour­ers have been given refuge with food and ne­ces­si­ties.

REUTERS

The be­long­ings of vic­tims scat­tered on the rail­way track in Au­rangabad in Ma­ha­rash­tra on Fri­day.

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