Little over two weeks after Infosys founder Narayana Murthy predicted that more people would die of the coronavirus lockdown than coronavirus itself, the human tragedy is now unfolding almost on a daily basis.
At least 25 migrant labourers were killed after the truck they were travelling in rammed into a van in Auraiya district of Uttar Pradesh. The tragedy came just a day after the Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to all the chief secretaries of the states to ensure that no migrant walks to his hometown or travels in crowded trucks.
"However, the movement of migrant workers, walking on roads, railway tracks and travelling in trucks, is still being noticed in different parts of the country," the home secretary's letter read, adding that they needed to be sent to relief camps and transported back home via buses and Shramik trains.
Auraiya biggest tragedy so far
The Uttar Pradesh accident is the biggest in terms of number of causalities so far. The accident in Maharashtra's Aurangabad, where 16 migrants were killed after a goods train ran past them, comes second. Despite the huge uproar over the May 9 tragedy, the spate of tragedies continues till now.
On Thursday, six migrant workers were killed in three separate incidents in Uttar Pradesh. Tragically, they were just hours away from reaching their destination.
While three were killed in Barabanki, two died in Jalaun and one migrant lost his life in Bahraich when the truck he was travelling in overturned.
On Wednesday, 14 migrants were killed in three separate incidents across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Eight migrant workers were killed when their bus collided with a truck near Guna in Madhya Pradesh.
Six people, including an infant girl, were killed in four separate incidents on Tuesday. In one incident, a truck carrying 54 migrant labourers and their families from Ahmedabad to Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh rammed into a stationary truck on Kanpur-Jhansi highway. The accident killed three migrants, including a two-year-old girl.
Last Saturday, six migrant labourers were killed in Nasinghpur district in Madhya Pradesh, when the truck in which they were travelling overturned around 40 kilometres from the district headquarters.
Not to forget the several individuals who chose to walk to their destinations but lost their lives due to fatigue and dehydration.
Killer trucks but offer convenience
A common factor in the deaths of several migrants has been overcrowded trucks, which are transporting migrants illegally to their destination for an amount.
The migrants find trucks convenient as they drop them close to their home, unlike the buses which carry them only till the state border. On the other hand, trains ferry them to their home state but they have to arrange for vehicles to reach their hometowns.
However, their journey is fraught with danger. Devoid of social distancing norms, the tightly packed trucks portend a higher risk of contracting Covid-19.
According to a PTI report, the truckers in Mumbai and adjoining areas charge anywhere in the range of Rs 1,500 to Rs 4,500 per person for the journey to Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, depending upon the distance to their native places.
Centre puts onus on states
Several migrants have been forced to walking or travel by trucks, largely due to their failure to book a seat in the Shramik trains. However, their plight continues to be caught in the political crossfire between the states and the Centre.
The Madras High Court on Friday took cognisance of the migrant crisis and directed the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government to submit a report on all the action taken to help the migrants.
A livid two-Judge bench was quoted by LiveLaw as stating: "The heart breaking stories are reported in the print as well as visual media that millions of workers were compelled to start walking to their native states with their little children carrying all their belongings over their head, surviving on the food provided by good Samaritans, as no steps were taken by the governments to help those migrant workers."
Meanwhile, the Centre apparently chose to blame the increasing number of accidents upon the restrictive lockdown policies of the state governments.
On Saturday, while condoling the deaths of the migrants in Uttar Pradesh, civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri tweeted: “Deeply pained to hear about unfortunate deaths of migrant workers in the Auraiya accident. This underlines the necessity for stakeholders, including receiving states, to ease restrictions for all affected people, particularly migrants, & allow limited air, road & rail connections (sic).”
Puri’s statement, while not new in the "tu-tu, mein-mein" culture of Indian politics, clearly indicates that co-operative federalism needs to rise to the occasion during a national calamity such as Covid-19, and that the Centre and the states need to co-ordinate their efforts to alleviate the migrants’ sufferings....