Thousands of people died after being struck by trains in India in 2020 despite the country’s railways almost entirely shutting down passenger services amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The national Railway Board on Wednesday released police data on fatalities recorded between January and December last year after a request from activists under freedom of information legislation.
The deaths fell under the jurisdiction of the police as they were viewed as “untoward incidents” or “trespassing”, rather than “railway accidents”.
Unnamed officials later told the Press Trust of India that many of those killed were migrant workers.
Millions of Indians who had travelled to big cities in search of jobs had been returning to their villages after lockdown was introduced last March, leaving them with no way to earn money.
Many walked home along the train tracks because they considered it a shorter route than roads, and likely also thought it would prevent them from getting lost or running into police looking for Covid-19 curb violators, the officials added.
“They also assumed that no trains would be running because of the lockdown,” one of the officials surmised. However, freight trains were still operating.
The number of deaths on railway tracks was on the rise in India before the pandemic, with 14,000 people perishing in such incidents in 2018 and 15,000 in 2019.
The figures from 2020 are much smaller because passenger services were shut down almost entirely around the country to prevent the spread of Covid-19, with only freight trains continuing their operations.
Indian Railways, which operates the fourth-largest train network in the world with around 70,000 km of track, has been campaigning to reduce the number of deaths by introducing measures to prevent people from trespassing onto tracks, according to the Times of India.