At least 23 migrant workers travelling in a truck on their way home have been killed in a collision in northern India, the latest tragedy amid a humanitarian crisis caused by a nationwide lockdown imposed to try and slow the spread of coronavirus.
Another 35 were injured when the vehicle crashed into a parked truck on a highway near a roadside eatery in the Auraiya district of Uttar Pradesh state, Abhishek Singh Meena, the top district official, said on Saturday.
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The workers mainly hailed from the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Local villagers were the first to reach the site and help the victims.
“The injured have been rushed to hospital where condition of several people is said to be critical,” Singh was quoted as saying by the Reuters News Agency.
Migrant labourers killed in road accident! @sifydotcom cartoon #MigrantsOnTheRoad #lockdown pic.twitter.com/vacw62gEnD
— Satish Acharya (@satishacharya) May 16, 2020
Tens of thousands of labourers have been walking home from India’s key cities after losing their jobs in recent weeks because of the lockdown.
India locked down its 1.3 billion citizens almost seven weeks ago in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, sparking a crisis for the hundreds of millions of Indians that rely on daily wages to survive.
With no work – and little public transport – many urban migrants attempting to return to their home villages have set out on gruelling journeys on foot, or hitching rides in the back of trucks.
‘Walking all night’
Dozens of migrant workers have fallen ill or died on their way home, either from fatigue or in accidents, underscoring the extreme risks the poor have been exposed to under measures to stop the spread of the illness.
The latest incident came days after six migrants workers walking to their homes in Bihar were crushed to death by a speeding truck in Muzaffarnagar, also in Uttar Pradesh. Three others sustained serious injuries. The driver was arrested.
Last week, 16 migrant workers, who had fallen asleep on a railway track due to exhaustion from walking for an extended period of time, were crushed by a train in Maharashtra.
“They had been walking all night, they were exhausted and fell asleep on the tracks,” a police officer said at the time.
On Friday, Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered bureaucrats and police officers across the state to arrange buses and taxi cabs to ferry migrants back to their hometowns. No one should walk, cycle or travel by trucks, he said.
In the face of public pressure, the government has also organised special trains and buses to transport migrant labourers home. On Thursday, it said more than a million people had reached their home states by train.
Coronavirus infections in India crossed 85,000 on Saturday, surpassing China, though officials credited the lockdown for slowing the contagion.
Meanwhile, Indian state and federal governments have provided additional funds to feed and house migrants.
China, India agree to disengage troops at disputed border |NationalTribune.com
The foreign ministries of China and India agreed in a joint statement on Friday that their troops must quickly disengage from a months-long standoff along their disputed Himalayan border. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting…
The foreign ministries of China and India agreed in a joint statement on Friday that their troops must quickly disengage from a months-long standoff along their disputed Himalayan border.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Moscow to try and end the dispute, the most serious in decades at the undemarcated border.
“The two Foreign Ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side. They agreed therefore that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions,” the statement said.
Separately, China’s foreign ministry said it would maintain communications with India through diplomatic and military channels and commit to “restoring peace and tranquillity” in the disputed border area.
Elaborating on the Moscow meeting, China said Wang had told Jaishankar that the “imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides”.
All personnel and equipment that have trespassed at the border must be moved and frontier troops on both sides “must quickly disengage” in order to de-escalate the situation, Wang added.
“This deal is significant but on the other hand I am still cautious. Let’s wait and see what transpires in the next few weeks and months. That will be the crucial test,” said Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington, the United States.
This deal is significant but on the other hand I am still cautious. Let’s wait and see what transpires in the next few weeks and months.
Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University
“I think both sides have considerable reasons to de-escalate,” he told Al Jazeera.
“In the case of India, the economy has cratered in the wake of the COVID crisis and the shambolic handling thereof. And consequently India can ill afford to devote significant resources to the military at this particular juncture,” he said.
“The Chinese did not want it to become a major distraction as their economy is finally recovering, and they are focused on the November elections in the US.”
Speaking on the five-point agreement between the two countries, Ganguly said they would probably involve withdrawing troops from eyeball-to-eyeball contact with one another.
“They would involve reducing certain kinds of actual deployment of artillery and other weaponry along particular band of territory.”
‘State of puffing’
Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, quoting China’s foreign ministry, said the two Asian rivals “should stop viewing each other as competitors and work more closely as partners”.
The Chinese ministry, Katrina reporting from Beijing said, called to stop the “atmosphere of confrontation” and start to “cooperate and build mutual trust rather than suspicion”.
The Al Jazeera correspondent said that the Global Times newspaper however, experssed scepticism saying that the implementation of the agreement really depended on India being able to keep up its end of the bargain.
Katrina Yu quoting the Chinese Communist Party-run newspaper said: “Unless India followed through, this would be little more than what he called paper talk.”
“This tone is in line with what we’ve heard from the Chinese foreign ministry over the past few weeks and Chinese state media,” she said.
In an editorial published ahead of the two ministers’ meeting the paper accused India of holding a grudge over the 1962 war, and described the country as in “an unprecedented state of puffing”.
#环球时报Editorial: If India wants peace, China and India should uphold the LAC of November 7, 1959. If India wants war, China will oblige. Let’s see which country can outlast the other. https://t.co/O0EkXVACG8 pic.twitter.com/tdbOEvjVUQ
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) September 10, 2020
Wang and Jaishanka’s meeting took place after a border clash earlier this week when each accused the other of firing in the air during a confrontation on their border in the western Himalayas, a violation of long-held protocols on the use of firearms on the sensitive frontier.
The Chinese ministry said the two countries reached the five-point consensus on reducing tension in the area including the need to abide by existing agreements to ensure peace.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday said it hoped China and India would find a solution as soon as possible to de-escalate renewed tensions, the Interfax news agency said.
The breakthrough comes a week after India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe met on the sidelines of another SCO meet, also in Moscow. Interestingly, in that meeting, Wei reportedly told Singh that Beijing would not cede an “inch of its territory”.
“So far, there has been a welcome of the five point agreement between the foreign ministers but on the Indian side everybody is waiting to see how China actually reacts and how it will implement this on the ground,” said Ajai Shukla, a defence analyst from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Both sides have intermittently claimed troop withdrawal and disengagement but reports of skirmishes continue with heavy military deployment by the nuclear-armed neighbours.
India and China have differing perceptions of what constitutes the Line of Actual Control – the de factor border – that runs through disputed territory on their Himalayan border.
Tensions in the region have been high since May when India alleged that Chinese troops took control of its territory patrolled by Indian soldiers for decades in Ladakh region.
Mapping India and China’s disputed borders |NationalTribune.com
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India, China accuse each other of firing shots at tense border |NationalTribune.com
China and India have accused each other of firing shots on their flashpoint Himalayan border in a further escalation of military tension between the nuclear-armed Asian rivals. The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated since a hand-to-hand combat clash in the Ladakh region on June 15 in which 20 Indian troops were killed. Experts…
China and India have accused each other of firing shots on their flashpoint Himalayan border in a further escalation of military tension between the nuclear-armed Asian rivals.
The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated since a hand-to-hand combat clash in the Ladakh region on June 15 in which 20 Indian troops were killed.
Experts fear the latest incident will intensify a months-long standoff between the Asian giants that erupted in late April.
Beijing’s defence ministry accused India of “severe military provocation”, saying soldiers crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western border region on Monday and “opened fire to threaten the Chinese border defence patrol officers”.
“According to the Chinese side, Chinese troops approached the India side for negotiations, and then they say some Indian troops fired at the Chinese side,” Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu reported from Beijing.
“As a result, China’s military said it was forced to take countermeasures – although we don’t know what those countermeasures were, or if there were any casualties,” she added.
India denies transgression
New Delhi was swift to give its own account, accusing Chinese border forces of “blatantly violating agreements” and firing “a few rounds in the air” to intimidate their Indian rivals.
“It is the PLA that has been blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive manoeuvres,” the Indian army said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Despite the grave provocation, (our) own troops exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner,” the statement said.
Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam, reporting from New Delhi said that, according to India, “China’s army was trying to close in on one of India’s positions – and that when they [China] were dissuaded by their own troops, they fired in the air”.
The countries fought a brief border war in 1962 but, officially, no shots have been fired in the area since 1975 when four Indian troops were killed in an ambush.
A spokesperson for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) gave no specifics and did not report casualties, calling on India to investigate the incident.
China’s western military command said the incursion occurred on Monday along the southern shore of Pangong Tso Lake in the area known in Chinese as Shenpaoshan. On the Indian side, the area is known as Chushul, where the two countries’ local military commanders have held several rounds of talks to defuse the tense standoff.
Zhang Shuili, spokesperson for the Western Theater Command of the PLA, said India had violated agreements reached by the two countries and warned their actions could “easily cause misunderstandings and misjudgements”.
India has deployed thousands of soldiers following deadly border clashes in June [File: Danish Ismail/Reuters]
China’s foreign ministry said Indian troops had illegally crossed the LAC and had been the first to fire shots. “This is a serious military provocation,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.
Late last month, India said its soldiers had thwarted the Chinese military’s moves “to change the status quo”, also on the southern shore of Pangong Lake, in violation of a consensus reached in past efforts to settle the standoff. In turn, China also accused Indian troops of crossing established lines of control.
Both sides have sent tens of thousands of troops to the disputed Himalayan border, which sits at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres (13,500 feet).
Their troops have had several showdowns since the June 15 clash. China has also acknowledged it has had casualties but not given figures.
Detailed border protocols in place for peaceful disengagement seem to have broken down since the June clash. India’s military has also reportedly changed its rules of engagement, allowing troops to carry guns.
Military commanders and diplomats have held several rounds of talks since July to reduce tension, but have made little progress to calm the border tensions.
Last week, defence ministers from the two countries spoke in Moscow on the sidelines of an international meeting – with both sides later releasing rival statements accusing each other of inflaming the showdown.
And earlier this week, an Indian minister said New Delhi had alerted China to allegations five men had been abducted by the PLA close to the disputed border in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
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