SATARA, India (Reuters) – An Indian train killed 14 migrant workers who had fallen asleep on the track on Friday while they were heading back to their home village after losing their jobs in a coronavirus lockdown, police said.
Tens of thousands of people have been walking home from India’s big cities after being laid off because of the lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus since late March.
The driver tried to stop the freight train when he saw the workers on the tracks in the western state of Maharashtra, the railway ministry said, adding it had ordered an inquiry.
Fourteen people were killed and five were injured, said a railway spokesman, C.H. Rakesh.
“I have just heard the sad news about labourers coming under the train, rescue work is underway,” Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said on Twitter.
Under the lockdown, all public transport has been suspended so migrant workers heading home often have to walk long distances to get there.
The government has extended the lockdown until May 17.
Police said the labourers worked for a steel company and were walking to their village in the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh.
“They had been walking all night, they were exhausted and fell asleep on the tracks,” a police officer said.
Because of the lockdown, they were probably not expecting any trains to be moving, an official said.
India’s eight-week long lockdown, one of the world’s most stringent, has helped contain the coronavirus officials say, but it has hit the poor hard.
Criticism has mounted about how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has arranged planes to bring back Indians from overseas, while leaving labourers stranded in big cities with little food or cash.
Modi said on Twitter he was anguished by the loss of lives in the train accident and all possible assistance was being provided.
“Shocked by the deaths of migrant workers hit by train. We should be ashamed of how we treat our nation-builders,” said Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party.
Over the past week, some state governments facing public pressure organised trains and buses to bring back migrant labourers.
Many are trudging great distances in the blistering heat through fields and forests to get home.
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