India’s migrant workforce needs greater protection, according to activists, after a report found 198 labourers died in road accidents while trying to return home after the country imposed lockdown.
The study by the SaveLIFE Foundation discovered migrants were run over while walking or cycling. There was also one mass-fatality crash on a bus organised for their return.
In addition, countless others have died from heatstroke as temperatures surpassed 40°C and from exertion.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi placed the nation under a sudden, draconian nationwide curfew on March 25 to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Indians were only permitted to leave their homes to purchase essential groceries or medicines. This left an estimated 100 million internal migrant labourers stranded in cities and away from their home villages, without employment or a means to purchase food.
Thousands desperately attempted to reach home by any means possible in the largest migration in India since Partition. Whole families walked or cycled up to 1,000km, while others hitched rides on trucks or buses that were permitted to transport goods.
After a public outcry, the Indian Government began running special trains and buses to repatriate migrants from May 1.
However, labourers are continuing to walk as they cannot afford the cost, having already burnt through their meagre savings.
“The government can take some quick effective steps to ensure that the migrants are safe while community on roads,” said Piyush Tewari, Founder of SaveLIFE Foundation.
“These include, informing migrants about the availability of buses and their schedule, ensure frequent patrolling to curb speeding and the demarcation of segregated lanes for cyclists and pedestrians.”
Pre-lockdown, India already had the world’s most dangerous roads with 150,000 deaths in 2018. Traffic regulations are not enforced and drivers overtake each other at will and switch lanes. Many roads do not have footpaths, forcing pedestrians to jaywalk to reach their destination. Pre-lockdown, pedestrians accounted for 60 percent of road deaths in Mumbai.
Drink-driving, driving for long hours without a break and without a licence are all also major problems.
“One of the recurring reasons for mass casualties in most of the incidents was speeding and driver fatigue due to continuous driving on tenuous routes,” the SaveLIFE report concluded.
In December, the city of Bangalore even deployed 70 mannequins in police outfits in an attempt to deter dangerous drivers.
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