The National Human Rights Commission on Friday issued notices to the Maharashtra chief secretary and Aurangabad district magistrate after a cargo train ran over migrant labourers and killed at least 16 of them.

The human rights panel took suo motu cognisance of media reports about the incident. The migrants had fallen asleep on the track while they were walking back to their home from Jalna in Maharashtra to Bhusawal in Madhya Pradesh. Four workers survived the accident, which took place at 5.15 am near Karmad, around 30 km from Aurangabad.

The commission directed the officers to submit a detailed report about the incident within four weeks. “It should also include details of the steps taken by the state and the district authorities to provide food, shelter and other basic amenities to the poor people, especially the migrant labourers, who are facing extreme difficulties from every angle,” the NHRC said in a statement. “The details of the relief and rehabilitation provided to the victim labourers and their dependents along with status of the medical treatment provided to the injured is also required to be given in the report.”

While the incident was an accident, the NHRC observed that it could have been averted if “some arrangements been made for their shelter or halt during their tiring journey”.

The accident occurred even as the loco pilot of the cargo train honked the horn as soon as he noticed the group of people on the rail tracks and also made all possible efforts to stop the train, the railway ministry claimed.

The South Central Railway has announced that a high-level inquiry headed by the commissioner of railway safety has been ordered to investigate the matter.

‘Migrants thought trains not plying,’ says railway safety watchdog

Meanwhile, Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety Shailesh Pathak wrote to Railway Board Chairperson VK Yadav instructing him to ensure abundant caution to avoid any such future accidents, PTI reported. The Commission of Railway Safety comes under the civil aviation ministry and investigates all railway accidents.

“Apparently, the affected persons had gathered along the track under the impression that the train services have been suspended due to Covid-19 lockdown,” Pathak said in his letter, according to Hindustan Times. “Furthermore, false sense of security may have come to their minds about there being no trains on run whereas freight, parcel specials have been running from before and now migrant specials have also started plying.”

The safety commissioner has directed that a “caution order” will have to be given to ensure special precautions. “Under such circumstances, as an abundant precaution, it is essential that all railway personnel connected with train operation, maintenance and patrolling activities should be cautioned to immediately communicate any such occurrence of persons walking along the track, if noticed by them, to the nearest station so that necessary action like caution order to all passing trains [can be taken],” he added.

The railways has not yet announced any ex-gratia compensation for the victims in the Aurangabad accident.