NAGPUR, Maharashtra: Hours after a goods train in Aurangabad ran over 16 migrant workers who were walking back home to Madhya Pradesh, a political blame game has begun in Maharashtra.
Of the group of 21 people, four survivors are still in shock, while one is battling for his life in hospital.
Balasaheb Thorat, Maharashtra state Congress president and a cabinet minister in the Uddhav Thackeray government, has accused Gujarat, West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka of not allowing its own citizens to enter these states.
“The issue of migrant workers stranded in the state is getting serious by the day. The Congress is ready to pay for the travel expenses of migrants wanting to go back to Gujarat. It is unfortunate that despite this, the Gujarat government is not accepting them,” Thorat tweeted, hours after the accident.
Police said the group was walking towards Bhusawal from Jalna after losing their jobs during the national lockdown to contain the COVID-19 outbreak when they stopped to rest out of exhaustion. Because of the lockdown, they were probably not expecting any trains to be moving, an official told Reuters.
Thorat appealed to the stranded workers to stay where they are and assured them that the Maharashtra government is trying to send them back to their hometowns. Maharashtra has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the country so far.
The poorly planned national lockdown which began in March has resulted in thousands of stranded migrant workers attempting to walk back to their hometowns in the absence of public transport. While the Union government has finally launched special trains to take the migrant workers back, the exercise has been marked by confusion and controversy.
Maharashtra, India’s most industrialized and richest state, houses a massive number of migrant workers from northern states. Due to the lockdown, thousands of workers continue to be stranded in various parts of the state.
Until Thursday, a medical certificate was made mandatory for entry into the Shramik Express trains, but this condition was relaxed on Thursday when it was found that hundreds of workers were thronging police stations and local hospitals for this.
CM Uddhav Thackeray also tweeted that his government has been in talks with the central government to arrange more trains to send the workers back to their home states.
However, on the day of the tragedy, the political discourse in the state revolved around the upcoming legislative council elections in the state.
The main opposition party in the state, the BJP, which is usually aggressive in cornering the government, was busy defending itself over the list of its MLC candidates announced on Friday rather than taking up the plight of workers.
Most BJP leaders, including former CM Devendra Fadanavis, expressed sadness and shock over the incident through their social media accounts but the party was busy defending itself over the denial of MLC nominations to senior leaders such as Eknath Khadse and Pankaja Munde and granting tickets to second-rung leaders and turncoats.