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