Quoting this Lok Sabha reply, Congress member Manish Tewari claims that migrants have died in huge numbers in road accidents during the lockdown. The problematic claim of Manish Tewari here is that he is making assumption that most of the deaths are of migrant labourers, given that they were the only section out on road during the lockdown. Using this pretext, Tewari is trying to evoke anguish among people against the Union Government, implying that they failed to save the lives of hapless daily wage workers.
Beyond Laborers - Road Accidents Took Lives of Many
Though this argument is problematic at various levels, two things should immediately be noted. 1) The assumption that all the road deaths are majorly of migrant laborers during March to June itself is wrong since a sample checking of accident-related headlines in media proves that a large number of people other than migrants have met with accidents and unfortunate death. 2) It is disingenuous to shed the responsibilities of states and use the incidents to only target the Centre. Especially, with regard to arrangement of transport for migrant labourers, it was the primary duty of concerned state governments. Even the Supreme Court direction also had placed the onus on state governments.
Bulk of Migrants Dead?
There is no denying the fact that migrant laborers are killed in road accidents during the lockdown period. However, there is no basis to argue that the bulk of the road accident deaths are of migrants. Media headlines during that period indicate that road accidents and fatalities occurred due to stunt-ride and other movements that took place with due permissions. Many reports also indicate that roads with less traffic prompted a few on the streets to overspeed their vehicles which resulted in accidents and fatalities.
On April 27, 2020 Bangalore Mirror reports that Lockdown road accidents claim 12 lives. The report covered a 30 days period in the city limits of Bengaluru alone. None of them related to migrant labourers but of joy-ride in empty roads.
May 8, 2020 a report from Telangana Today says Two dead, one seriously injured in road accident on NH 65. Unfortunate deaths were not of any migrant labourers.
June 27,2020 a report from ANI tells Five Killed In Accident On Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway. Again, the unfortunate deaths are not linked to migrant workers.
March 6, 2020 Hindustan Times reported 12 killed, 4 seriously injured in road accident near Karnataka’s Tumkur. Pilgrims headed to Dharmasthala were among fatalities.
The Road Accidents Numbers in Perspective
Though close to 29,415 fatalities in road accidents including in National Highways are unfortunate, it roughly translates to average 7,355 fatalities each month. In a vast country like India, whatever the restrictions are at play, these many deaths in road accidents are not inconceivable though they are unfortunate. Compared to the same period of 2019, the decrease in fatalities is evident as another reply in the Parliament shows. There has been a 51% decline in road accident fatalities during April to June this year compared to the corresponding period of the previous year. It should also be noted that the lockdown was imposed at the end of the month March and there was no restriction on road transport in the early weeks of March.
Using the fate of migrants to float assumptions may suit the narrow political scores that the opposition Congress and its people like Manish Tewari are trying to make. However, there is no factual basis for their arguments. As exhibited above, the presumption that only the migrants were on the road and hence the road accident deaths must be of them only is simply dubious.