At least 24 migrant workers were killed and 36 injured when a trailer rammed into a stationary truck, both carrying passengers, on a highway near Auraiya in Uttar Pradesh in the early hours of Saturday.
Some of the workers coming from Delhi had stopped for tea when the accident occurred between 3 am and 3.30 am on the Auraiya-Kanpur Dehat stretch of National Highway 19, police said.
The impact of the collision, the latest in a series of road tragedies involving migrant workers returning to their villages, was so huge that both vehicles overturned and fell into a ditch.
Most of those killed were from Jharkhand and West Bengal, and some from Kushinagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh, officials said.
While the stationary vehicle was coming from Delhi and was headed towards Chhattarpur in Madhya Pradesh, the other was coming from Rajasthan with about 50 migrant labourers. Both were ferrying people who found themselves without jobs, money or food during the lockdown and were desperate to get back home.
"The accident took place when some labourers travelling on the truck (coming from Delhi) halted on the Auraiya-Kanpur Dehat Road to have tea at a local shop. At this point of time, a truck coming from Rajasthan hit the stationary vehicle, Inspector General, Kanpur, Mohit Agarwal told PTI over the phone.
Of the 36 injured, 14 have serious injuries and have been admitted to a hospital in Saifai (in Etawah district) while 22 have been hospitalised in Auraiya, about 400 km from New Delhi and 200 km from the state capital Lucknow, he said.
PM Modi and CM Yogi Adityanath condole deaths
Expressing his condolences, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the accident as very tragic.
â€œThe government is carrying out relief work in full swing," the prime minister tweeted.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the deceased. The chief minister, according to a statement released by the state government, directed the divisional commissioner and IG Kanpur to visit the site and give a report on the cause of the accident immediately.
Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Awasthi said the chief minister had also directed that SHOs of two police stations be suspended, and stern warning be issued to the concerned circle officers.
"The chief minister has reiterated that directions have been given to all the border areas to ensure that no person travels by unsafe means like trucks. Directions have already been issued to keep 200 buses under the disposal of district magistrates in every district of border areas. Funds have been approved to send the labourers by buses. Hence, the district magistrates must strictly comply with these orders," a statement from the government said.
The state government has decided to give Rs 2 lakh to the kin of each deceased, and Rs 50,000 to the seriously injured, it said.
Amongst the others who expressed their grief were BJP president J P Nadda, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Demand for UP CMâ€™s resignation
Accusing the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh of being insensitive towards the plight of migrants, the state unit of the Congress on Saturday demanded Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's resignation over the Auraiya accident.
UP Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu said, "The chief minister should resign. This government is insensitive towards the (plight of) migrant labourers. Where have all the buses gone, which the UP Government claims have been pressed into service to send the migrant labourers home? The entire country is seeing this."
"The accident is very unfortunate and saddening. I express condolence for the loss of lives, and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured persons," he told PTI.
Lallu also said, "Yesterday the UP chief minister had said that buses have been pressed into service so that migrant labourers can reach their homes. He has been saying this for some time, but then who is responsible for this accident. The chief minister is responsible for the accident."
The UP government meted out inhuman treatment to the migrant labourers by compelling them to walk home, he said and demanded Rs 20 lakh ex gratia for the kin of the deceased and Rs 5 lakh to the injured.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav on Saturday also termed the death of 24 migrant labourers in Auraiya as "indescribable" sadness, saying such accidents are "not deaths, but murders".
"Indescribable sadness on the death of over 24 poor migrant labourers in UP's Auraiya. Prayers for the injured persons. Let's see till when the silence maintained by heartless people and their supporters justify this negligence... despite knowing everything, and seeing everything. Such accidents are not deaths, but murder," Yadav said in a tweet in Hindi.
In another tweet, the SP chief said his party will give Rs 1 lakh to the family of each of the deceased.
"The news of the death of migrant labourers returning to their homes is heart wrenching. These are those people who run their homes. Hence, the Samajwadi Party will give Rs 1 lakh to the family of each of the deceased," he said.
Yadav also accused the BJP-led state government of being "ruthless" and urged it to take moral responsibility of the incident. "The ruthless BJP government must take moral responsibility, and provide Rs 10 lakh to each of the family of the deceased," he added.