As many as 8,733 people, most of whom were migrants, were killed on railway tracks in 2020 despite a halt on passenger train services amid the countrywide lockdown due to the Covid-19 crisis, PTI reported on Wednesday.

The Railway Board shared the data on the deaths that occurred between January and December 2020 in response to a question by Madhya Pradesh-based activist Chandra Shekhar Gaur under the Right to Information Act.

“Based on the information received from the State Police, 805 people suffered injuries and 8,733 people died on the railway track between January 2020 and December 2020,” the Railway Board has said.

Many of those who died were home-bound migrant workers who chose to walk along the railway tracks as train routes were considered to be shorter than road or highways, a railway official said, according to PTI. The officials said they also chose to walk along the tracks to avoid the police for violating lockdown norms.

“They also assumed that no trains would be running because of the lockdown,” one of the officials told PTI.

Only cargo trains were operating during the countrywide lockdown that began from March 25. The railways began the “Shramik Special” trains for the migrants from May 1.

Passenger trains have been gradually reopening with around 1,100 special trains functioning along with 110 regular passenger trains by December. The Railways have now opened up 70% of the services.

On May 8 last year, as many as 16 migrant labourers were killed after a cargo train ran over them in Aurangabad district. The workers were walking back home to Madhya Pradesh when the incident occurred. Four other migrant workers survived the accident.

Data from the Railways, compiled from states, said that 56,271 people died and 5,938 were wounded in accidents along the tracks between 2016 and 2019.

In 2016, as many as 14,032 people died in these accidents, in 2017 the number was 12,838. The figures showed that 14,197 people died in 2018 and 15,204 in 2019.

However, the authorities do not categorise these deaths as “railway accidents”. The figures are categorised as – consequential accidents, trespassing and untoward incidents. The deaths that occur along the tracks fall under “untoward incidents” or “trespassing”. The state police investigate these accidents and compensation is also made by the state governments.

The mass exodus of migrant workers from major cities was a point of concern during the countrywide lockdown in March 2020. With most modes of public transport shut down, thousands of migrant workers were left with the option of either ferrying rides on private vehicles with cramped spaces, or walking hundreds of kilometres on the way to their hometowns.

During last year’s lockdown, workers had experienced a money crunch and problems such as lack of food. Last year’s survey of over 11,000 stranded migrant workers, done by the Stranded Workers Action Network, showed that half of them had stocks of ration that would only last less than a day. Out of these, 96% workers had not received rations from the government, and 70% had not received any cooked food. As many as 89% had not been paid by their employers at all during the lockdown, the report added.

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