Aajeevika Bureau, a non-profit organisation supporting migrant labourers in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra, and workers’ collectives backed by it on Wednesday expressed grief over the death of 15 migrant workers in Surat district. The groups demanded the government come up with long-term shelter and housing schemes for the workers.

The migrants were run over by a truck while they were sleeping on the roadside on Tuesday. All the labourers killed in the accident were from Rajasthan. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the families of the workers killed in the accident, and Rs 50,000 for those who were injured.

Aajeevika Bureau, Pravasi Shramik Suraksha Manch, Bandhkaam Mazdoor Vikas Sangh, Karkhana Shramik Suraksha Sangh and Hamaal Suraksha Sangh said in a joint statement that the deaths were a “tragic outcome” of policy lapses and not an isolated incident. “The Surat incident serves as a fierce reminder of the sheer deficit of housing for the working poor,” they said. “Rentals are too high for their meagre wages to afford and public housing does not exist for them.”

Their statement flagged that the number of shelters for the homeless remained exceptionally low, even though the Supreme Court had in 2010 directed the states to build them. The organisations said that only access to shelter will help stop the deaths of migrant workers in accidents.

Here is the full text of their statement:

It is with deep anguish that we mourn and condemn the untimely and brutal deaths of 15 migrant workers who were crushed under a dumper truck while sleeping on the roadside in Kosamba, almost 50 kilometres North of Surat. The incident occurred yesterday morning, when the dumper truck driver lost balance and hit a tractor, causing the dumper to run over the victims who were sleeping on a footpath right next to the accident spot. 12 workers, including a one-year-old girl, have died on the spot while 3 are admitted with grievous injuries in a Surat hospital.

The migrant workers who met their painful end came to Surat from Kushalgarh block of Banswara district in Rajasthan. We know their villages and their communities. We are also aware of the many hardships such workers face in cities like Surat to which they seasonally migrate in order to earn a fragile living. These are construction workers whose hard work and sweat shapes our cities and industries. Beyond doubt they deserve better in their life and certainly do not deserve death.

This is not just an isolated accident, but the tragic outcome of a longstanding lapse in policy for migrants, many of whom are forced to live and sleep in the open in our cities. The Surat incident serves as a fierce reminder of the sheer deficit of housing for the working poor.  Rentals are too high for their meagre wages to afford and public housing does not exist for them. Despite the Supreme Court’s orders of 2010 directing state governments to construct one shelters for every 100,000 people, the tally, continues to remain exceptionally low. State’s current shelter capacities cannot accommodate even a tenth of the homeless population across cities – seasonal migrants barely have a chance to enter these spaces.  For far too long we have collectively tolerated and normalized deaths by accidents involving poor labourers or the homeless. That we all must wait for such incidents to occur, to think of dignified housing and shelter to the poor is most unfortunate.

While the investigations around the case are ongoing and the State and Union governments have announced monetary compensation for victims, we must remind ourselves that compensations and condolences will not help curb such horrific deaths. Access to shelter will. We call upon that the state authorities to ensure that no one has the misfortune of sleeping in the open or succumbing to such a tragic death.  While this is being written the dead bodies of the migrants are on their way to their villages in Rajasthan. We will reach their villages as well and will do what we can to ensure that their families are supported through this period.

We urge everyone to come together in grief over the loss of these precious lives and offer their condolence by raising their voice for housing, shelter, healthcare, and security for India’s migrants. It is absolutely essential that the Government of Gujarat and Gujarat’s employers get together immediately to consolidate a long-term shelter and housing solution for its millions of migrants who are forced to live in open spaces at great personal risk even as they fuel the growth and prosperity of its cities.