Twenty-four migrants were killed and more than 30 were injured when the trucks they were travelling in collided at around 3 am in Uttar Pradesh's Auraiya district, about 200 km from the state's capital Lucknow. This is the latest incident where stranded migrant workers - left jobless due to the coronavirus lockdown - have been killed in an accident while trying to return to their homes, triggering an outpour of condolences nationwide.
Desperate to reach their villages, separate groups of migrants had hitched rides on two trucks from Rajasthan and Delhi; they were headed to Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and West Bengal, according to the officials. One of the trucks was loaded with goods and labourers were sitting on the sacks when they were thrown off the vehicle due to the impact of the collision.
"Some people had got down from one of the trucks that stopped at a dhaba to have tea. That was when the collision happened and labourers who were sitting on the sacks were thrown off. We are still trying figure out why so many people were packed in those vehicles coming from Delhi and Rajasthan. Those injured have been admitted to hospitals," senior police officer Jai Narayan Singh said.
Distressing visuals of chaos from the accident site show injured labourers getting help from locals and policemen after the accident. A large number of policemen can be seen carrying out rescue operations.
In a tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the incident is "extemely tragic". "The road accident in Uttar Pradesh's Auraiya is extremely tragic. The government is involved in the relief work. I express my condolences to the families of those killed in this accident, as well as wish the injured a speedy recovery," PM Modi tweeted in Hindi this morning.
The PM also announced compensation of Rs 2 lakh each for the families of those who died and Rs 50,000 for those who were injured.
An ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each for the next of kin of those who lost their lives due to the unfortunate accident in Auraiya, UP has been approved from the PM's National Relief Fund. Rs 50,000 each for the injured has also been approved.— PMO India (@PMOIndia) May 16, 2020
"The death of migrant workers in a road accident in Auraiya district is unfortunate and sad. My condolences to the bereaved families. Instructions have been given to ensure relief and medical treatment for those injured. A probe has also been ordered," Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath tweeted in Hindi this morning.
A probe has been ordered into the Auraiya incident and a compensation of Rs 2 lakh has been announced for the families of those who died and Rs 50,000 for those injured. Two police officers have been suspended and both the trucks have been seized; cases have been filed against the truck drivers.
The state has also decided to deploy 200 buses in each of the border districts to help migrants reach their homes.
Another road accident was reported from Madhya Pradesh's Sagar district at around 10 am that killed six labouers, inluding three women. The truck they were travelling in overturned. The group began their journey from Maharashtra and they were going to UP.
Specials buses and trains are being organised by the central government and states for those stranded due to the nationwide shutdown yet many are still undertaking arduous journeys of hundreds of kilometres on foot with their families.
Yesterday, Yogi Adityanath had appealed to the migrants to avoid travelling on their own. "I appeal to all the migrant workers to not walk or travel on their own. Inform our nodal officers, they will help and provide you transport for free. All officials have been directed to take migrant workers entering the state to quarantine centers&be provided comfort," he said.
This morning's accident prompted strong reactions from the opposition leaders. "I demand that Chief Minister should take action against the officers who didn't fulfill their responsibilities. Families of those who were killed or injured in this accident should be provided financial assistance. I express my condolences to the bereaved families," BSP Chief Mayawati said.
"Yesterday, the Chief Minister said that for the labourers who come to UP or pass through state, officers will make arrangements for their food, transit and shelter. It's unfortunate that CM's directions are not being taken seriously by officers because of which a big accident occurred today," she added.
Congress's Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also launched an attack. "The Auraiya incident again raises the question about lack of arrangements for these labourers to reach homes. Why are buses not being run within the state for the migrants. The state government can either see nothing or they just want to turn a blind eye. Is making remarks the only job of the government?"
"The news of death of migrants returning to their homes is heart-breaking. These are the people who were breadearners for their families. So Samajwadi Party has announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh for the families of those killed in the accident. Taking the moral responsibility, the heartless BJP government should give them Rs 10 lakh each," former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav tweeted.
At least 31 migrants have died in the last 24 hours in separate incidents. On Thursday, six migrant workers were run over by an Uttar Pradesh government bus on a highway in the state's Muzaffarnagar district. Two workers were injured. They had been walking to their hometowns in Bihar from Punjab. The police said the bus was empty and the driver has been arrested.
Last week, 16 migrant workers in a group of 20 were killed after a cargo train ran over them while they were sleeping on the tracks in Maharashtra's Aurangabad.
The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a petition that asked that the centre be ordered to provide food and water to migrants on the move. "It is impossible for this court to monitor who is walking and not walking," the top court said.
"Let the state decide. Why should the court hear or decide?" the court said during the hearing.