AURANGABAD: Sixteen jobless and weary migrant labourers who had dozed off on a railway track after walking nearly 36km from Maharashtra’s Jalna, where they used to work in a steel plant, were run over by a goods train at Satana village near Aurangabad on Friday morning, tragically cutting short what was to be a journey back to their native MP.
The deceased were in a group of 20 that set out from Jalna on foot for the Bhusawal railway junction, around 160km away, in the hope of catching a train to MP. The four survivors were also lying on the track, but just managed to get out of harm’s way.
“We were exhausted and sat on the track to drink water. Some of us chatted before dozing off. The train arrived soon after and ran over most of my mates. Four of us heard their cries and woke up, and barely managed to jump aside,” one of the survivors, Sajjansingh Dhurve, told TOI, adding that they had assumed no train would be plying during lockdown.
Severed limbs, blood-stained rotis, torn currency notes and clothes and other belongings lay strewn on the track for hours. The railway administration and police had a tough time recovering the dismembered body parts of the 16 victims and sending these to the mortuary at Aurangabad’s Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH).
“The tracks were at a little elevation from the ground, which offered some safety from reptiles and other wild creatures,” Dhurve, one of the four who survived, said.
Expressing grief over the death of the workers, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray announced Rs 5 lakh in financial aid to each of the victims’ families. His MP counterpart Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced a like amount to the next of kin of the deceased.
The 20 workers used to work in a steel plant that has just resumed operations after 40 days of lockdown, Jalna collector Ravindra Binwade said. “Another 58 migrant workers from the plant had earlier secured travel passes to return home. The 20 workers involved in Friday’s incident had visited the collectorate on Thursday but did not apply for passes. They had been assured of passes if they applied.”
However, sources in the district administration said the workers were disappointed at not being able to secure travel passes and decided to set off immediately. “They went back to the steel plant, stayed there for some time before setting out for Bhusawal on foot. The plant had received permission from the MIDC to restart manufacturing and resumed operations on April 4, but the workers thought it best to return home,” a source said.
Rafiq Shah, police patil of Satana village, said 14 of the migrant workers died on the spot and two on the way to hospital. “I live just 500 metres from the site. I heard a loud bang and the goods train, which was going from Nanded to Manmad, screeching to a halt. I felt dizzy on seeing the gory sight on the tracks. However, I immediately called up the police and other authorities,” he said.
South Central Railway’s chief PRO Ch Rakesh said in a statement that the loco pilot of the goods train honked as soon as he saw people on the tracks and did everything possible to stop the train. He said a high-level inquiry headed by the commissioner of railway safety (SCR) has been ordered.
Despite repeated attempts, the management of SRJ Rolling Mills in Jalna, where the workers were employed, could not be reached for comment.
Aurangabad rural superintendent of police Mokshada Patil told TOI, “The survivors and the victims’ bodies are being sent to Madhya Pradesh by train.”
Following the accident, leaders from across party lines, including former state assembly Speaker Haribhau Bagde and Aurangabad MP Imtiaz Jaleel, demanded action against the employers as well as the labour contractors. Jaleel said, “The workers were unemployed for 40 days, and this resulted in a complete erosion of their savings. This might have forced them to go back to MP.”