Train kills 16 migrant workers in India walking back home in lockdown

Sixteen migrant workers who had fallen asleep on the track while returning back to their home village were crushed to death by a goods train in Aurangabad in Western India early Friday morning.

The workers - who were walking along rail tracks from Jalna to Bhusawal in the central Indian state of Maharashtra - were returning to their home state Madhya Pradesh due to the coronavirus lockdown, an official at the Karmad police station said.

They were sleeping on rail tracks due to exhaustion when they were run over by the goods train coming from Jalna, he said.

The migrant workers, rendered jobless due to the lockdown and desperate to go to their native places, were walking along the rail tracks apparently to escape police attention.

Most of these migrants come from rural India to big cities in search of better income prospects.

Tens of thousands of the migrants and their families - disappointed and helpless - began undertaking their journeys on foot from India's big cities after being laid off because of the lockdown introduced in late March.

People stand outside an ambulance in which some of the victims lie. Credit: AP

Due to lockdown measures, all public transport has been suspended so migrant workers heading home often have to walk long distances to get there.

Dharamveer, a migrant worker who had been cycling for over four days to cover 1,200km between the Indian capital Delhi and eastern Indian state of Bihar's Khagaria, collapsed and died.

Many migrant worker like him have died after cycling over hundreds of kilometres.

In another incident 26-year-old Hari Prasad reportedly died of exhaustion after he walked around 100km from the Southern city of Bengaluru to reach home.

Locking down the country's 1.3 billion people has come at an enormous cost of upending lives for Indians. Credit: AP

Criticism has mounted about the Indian government's handling of migrants workers.

Critics have pointed out that the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has arranged planes to bring back Indians from overseas, while leaving labourers stranded in big cities with little food or cash.

A group of Indian academics and civil society members have cautioned about such shabby treatment of migrant workers and have warned that this situation could lead to "unrest".

The group urged the Indian government to make arrangements for the safe travel of the migrant workers and described the issue of migrant workers as a "national emergency".

"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.