The railways ministry has said that 97 people died while travelling on the Shramik special trains that were operated to repatriate domestic migrant workers, the first official confirmation of a string of fatalities that prompted questions over how the lockdown for Covid-19 was planned and on the measures made to help vulnerable, urban workers who were left without pay and jobs return to their homes in the Indian hinterland.
The disclosure was made on Friday as a response to a question by Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien in the Rajya Sabha. At the start of the monsoon session, a separate government department – the labour ministry – said it did not have data on how many migrant workers had died when the country locked down to stem the spread of Covid-19.
“Out of these 97 cases of death, state police sent dead bodies for post mortem in 87 cases. 51 post-mortem reports have been obtained from respective state police so far, in which the reasons for deaths have been shown as cardiac arrest/heart disease/brain hemorrhage/pre-existing chronic disease/chronic lung disease/chronic liver disease etc,” said the reply by Union railways minister Piyush Goyal.
The data accounted for deaths till September 9.
On May 30, Hindustan Times first reported that between May 9 and 27, almost 80 deaths took place on board Shramik special trains, according to data accessed from the Railway Protection Force.
Shramik special trains began operation on May 1 to ferry migrant labourers back home after hundreds were seen setting out on foot for their towns and villages hundreds of kilometres away in the middle of peak summer conditions. In all, 4,621 Shramik special trains were run between May 1 and August 31, 2020, carrying 6.3 million passengers to their home states, the ministry said in Parliament.
In an interview to HT on June 1, after the report on the deaths, Goyal said that the Indian Railways has been transparent about the deaths, and insisted on compiling a list of them, and finding out causes even as news reports suggested that “eight or nine migrants” died on trains. The real number has emerged only because of this, he suggested. “We are very concerned… My heart goes out to the families (of those who have died),” the minister said.
Separately on Saturday, the labour minister said the government is collecting information on suicide of migrant workers from states.