New Delhi: Indian roads, including national highways, witnessed 81,385 accidents between March and June, which comprised the peak Covid-19 lockdown period, the Union Road Transport and Highways Ministry informed Parliament earlier this week.
The accidents resulted in 29,415 fatalities, junior Road Transport Minister General V.K. Singh (Retd) informed the Lok Sabha in a written reply, adding that “the ministry does not maintain separate data in respect of migrant workers who have died in road accidents during the lockdown”.
Singh was responding to an unstarred question — questions that entail written replies — from Congress MPs Jasbir Singh Gill, Mohammad Jawed, D.K. Suresh and Dean Kuriakose, a day before the monsoon session was ended ahead of schedule amid Covid-19 concerns.
India’s Covid-19 lockdown began from 25 March, and marked the end of nearly all inter- and intra-state movement except for essential services. Transport of non-essential goods was allowed from 30 March.
The lockdown led to lakhs of migrant labourers losing employment opportunities, forcing them to return home — in the early days, in the absence of public transport, thousands set off on foot on journeys often hundreds of kilometres wrong.
Through this period, there were multiple news reports about migrant workers dying in road accidents.
After facing severe flak for not responding to the plight of migrant workers initially, the government, on 9 April, allowed special buses to take migrants to their states, with special trains launched for the same purpose from 1 May. In June, many other restrictions began to be eased, an initiative named ‘Unlock’.
To another question on the number of migrant workers who travelled on foot to return home in March and April 2020, Singh quoted labour ministry data to say “more than 1.06 crore migrant workers, including those who travelled on foot during the lockdown, returned to their home state” during the lockdown period.
Speaking to ThePrint, Kal Singh, deputy director general of the Transport Research Wing, a unit under the road transport ministry that collates road accident data from across the country, said data on road accidents has “come from state police departments and is correct”.
He reiterated the fact that “it will not be possible for us to tell if the victims were migrant labourers as we do not maintain separate data of migrant workers”.
‘Provided with help’
In Parliament, Singh also sought to explain how the central government assisted the migrant labourers walking home on the various national highways. The migrants were provided with food, drinking water, basic medicines and footwear.
“They were also provided with resting places to take rest and assistance in terms of the arrangement of transport with the help of local administration to take them to places nearest to their destination,” Singh said in the written reply.
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