The body of a 38-year-old migrant worker was discovered in the toilet of a train at Uttar Pradesh's Jhansi Railway Station on Wednesday. The body, found by railway workers sanitising the train after a round trip from to Gorakhpur in eastern UP, may have been lying in the toilet for as many as five days.
The body has been identified as Mohan Lal Sharma, a resident of the state's Basti district. Mr Sharma worked as a daily wager in Mumbai but, like lakhs of other migrants, was left without a job or money by the abruptly-enforced lockdown.
Mr Sharma managed to reach Jhansi on May 23, after which he and other migrants looking to return home were sent by the district administration to the station to board a train to Gorakhpur, which is around 70 km from Basti.
On boarding the train Mr Sharma spoke to a relative on his mobile phone and asked to be met at the station in Gorakhpur. The following day, May 24, when the relative tried to reach Mr Sharma on the phone, he found it was switched off.
The train returned to Jhansi on Wednesday, May 27, and, as railway workers proceeded to disinfect the coaches, they were shocked to find Mr Sharma's body. The coach the body was found in had been locked for the return to Jhansi. The Railways has said no one was supposed to check that it was, in fact, empty before it returned.
North Central Railways said Mr Sharma, who had boarded the train "after medical screening as laid down for travel during the COVID-19 outbreak", also said no medical assistance had been sought by him, or anybody else on his behalf, during the journey.
"This was an empty rake and empty rakes are locked. When we carried out maintenance we found the body. None of the railway doctors in any division along the train's route received any calls that someone was ill," Manoj Kumar Singh, Railways PRO, said.
(2/2) After journey empty rake returned from Gorakhpur and taken for maintenance on 27.05.20 at Jhansi when dead body was found. Required action was taken immediately by Railways. Pls do not spread rumours without verifying facts.— railway northcentral (@CPRONCR) May 29, 2020
A relative of Mr Sharma confirmed he had left Mumbai in a bus and reached Jhansi on May 23.
"In Jhansi he got on to a train and called me. He said "I will reach a day later. Please come and receive me at the station". The next day, on May 24, I tried to call him but the phone was switched off. Then on Thursday, we found out he had died," Madan Murari said.
"He wanted to come home because there was no work," Kanhaiya Lal Sharma, another relative, said.
Cops have confirmed that a post-mortem is being conducted on Mr Sharma's body and it will be handed over after the results of the COVID-19 test are released.
Over 20 lakh migrants have returned to UP over the past two months, with several lakhs more expected in the days to come, leaving the state with multiple challenges - to screen and quarantine them, to provide food and shelter and to ensure they get employment.
The treatment of migrants and daily wagers desperately trying to return home, traveling hundreds (often thousands) of kilometres with little or no money and food, has become one of the abiding images of the coronavirus outbreak.
On Thursday the Supreme Court, which had earlier said it was "impossible" for it to monitor this humanitarian crisis, directed the centre to come up with a "uniform" policy on migrants' travel.