Maharashtra battles Covid-19: Mumbai municipal commissioner replaced, NHRC notice over rail accident
Geetanjali Minhas | May 9, 2020 | Mumbai
As Maharashtra leads the country in the number of Covid-19 infections with the financial capital Mumbai remaining the most affected city, the state government has replaced the high-profile municipal commissioner of the city, while also hinting that it might ask the centre for supplementing the forces to maintain the lockdown.
On Friday, Praveen Pardeshi was transferred as additional chief secretary, Urban Development Department, and Iqbal Chahal was appointed in his place. Chahal was additional chief secretary, Urban Development till now.
Later in the evening, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray assured migrant labourers that his government is committed to support them and they must not worry. Expressing his grief on the train accident that took place at Aurangabad in the early hours of Friday, he said, “It saddens me to see what happened. I appeal to the workers to stay where they are. The government is working out modalities to send you home. The only thing to keep in mind is not to do crowding. Have patience. We are working to solve your problems.”
Thackeray also said that 5-6 lakh migrant workers have been accommodated in various camps. “We have started train services and are coordinating with the governments of their home states.”
On a much circulated video of Sion Hospital in which patients are seen lying next to dead bodies wrapped in bags, he said, “Just like we did not tolerate attacks on doctors we will also not tolerate incidents like this which has been brought to our notice.” He asked AYUSH doctors and Ayurvedic practitioners to come forward and help government fight the coronavirus.
The chief minister refuted speculations of army being called in to man the streets and asked people not to believe such rumours. “I have been completely transparent with you. There is no need for the army to come in. You are the soldiers in this fight,” he said. However, Thackeray did not rule out asking the centre for back-up as the state police is stressed. He said the police is tired and still working – some of them have even died. “I want to ask the centre, if there is any way we can get central forces so our police force can take breaks. They can then get back on their jobs. Please don’t equate it with ‘calling the army’. I want people to cooperate and they must be prepared for a long battle against the coronavirus ahead.”
The chief minister also said that with monsoon ahead his government has asked the centre to provide help through their hospitals to which it has agreed. Thackeray ruled out making any concessions in containment zones, within red zones. He added that as people stranded in other countries are coming back they also need to be quarantined and the government’s responsibility is also increasing. “Just as you have till now, I want your cooperation for some more days. For the lockdown to be successful we need to follow the rules. We have managed the lockdown well but we haven’t managed to break the chain yet for which the government needs peoples support. We have to fight this battle against pandemic,” he said.
He appealed people to go for tests immediately on noticing symptoms and said that with people coming very late doctors were not able to save their lives. “This phase of lockdown is very important and you have to decide what is to be done about it. The more you break the lockdown rules, the more it will be extended. No one likes to be caged indoors,” he said and appealed people to maintain physical distancing.
NHRC orders inquiry
Taking suo moto cognizance of reports of 16 migrant workers being mowed down by an empty goods train between Badnapur and Karmad stations in Nanded division in the early hours of Friday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notices to the chief secretary, government of Maharashtra, and the district magistrate, Aurangabad, to submit within four weeks a detailed report of the incident.
The migrant workers who were walking to Bhusawal from Jalna to board a ‘Shramik Special’ train to return to Madhya Pradesh were sleeping on the railway line when the mishap occurred between Badnapur and Karmad stations in Nanded Division. Reportedly about 20 workers were walking from Jalna to Bhusawal, a distance of about 150 kilometres. After walking for about 45 km they stopped to take some rest and fell asleep on the tracks. At around 5:15 AM a goods train ran over them. Noticing some persons along the tracks the loco pilot honked and also tried to stop the train but could not contain the speed of the running train hitting the victims lying on the tracks. Fourteen labourers died on the spot and two others succumbed to injuries later.
The commission has called for details being 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 in the current situation. NHRC has also asked for the details of relief and rehabilitation to the victim labourers and their dependents along with status of the medical treatment provided to the injured in the report.
Observing that prima facie the mishap can be termed as a train accident, it says, “the crucial aspect is that the poor labourers who were already facing many hardships amid countrywide lockdown were forced to walk on foot for a very long distance due to non-availability of any mode of transport and lost their lives due to apparent negligence by the district administration. Had some arrangements been made for their shelter or halt during their tiring journey the painful tragedy could be averted. Death of poor migrant labourers is a painful tragedy and indeed an issue of violation of human rights.”
The human rights body in its recent orders has observed and expressed that the government agencies need to deal with the situation arising out of country wide lockdown very sensibly, particularly for the people belonging to vulnerable sections of the society.
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