Indian authorities probe deaths of migrant workers on trains

NEW DELHI (AP) — A senior Indian railway official said Friday that authorities are investigating whether some migrant workers died of starvation or heat sickness this week while traveling on special trains to their home villages in blazing heat after losing their jobs in cities because of the coronavirus lockdown.

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Railway Board Chairman Vinod Kumar Yadav said more than 5 million migrant workers and their families were transported this month from cities and towns to their home villages on 3,840 trains. He said 80% returned to two of India’s 28 states, eastern Bihar and northern Uttar Pradesh.

Indian media reported at least a dozen deaths in the past week on the trains, including a 35-year-old woman who was found in Muzaffarpur in Bihar state. A video of her body lying in the train station with her toddler playing nearby was widely shared on social media.

Authorities found two bodies when a train arrived this week in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state.

Yadav denied reports of food and water shortages on the trains. He declined to specify how many people had died, but said health authorities are investigating the causes. Television reports have shown desperate migrants looting food trolleys at railroad stations and in trains.

Yadav said railroad authorities arranged for doctors to help 30 women deliver babies during their journeys.

A nationwide coronavirus lockdown imposed by the government on March 25 caused many impoverished migrant workers in cities to lose their jobs. Many made grueling and dangerous trips back to their hometowns, with most public transport including trains halted under the lockdown. The government began arranging special trains on May 1 to take migrants home.