Mizoram Bridge Collapse: 18 of 23 dead Bodies of Migrant Labourers Returned to Bengal

Gut-wrenching scenes, as 18 out 23 dead young men from Bengal reach Ratua, Engrejbazaar, and Kalichak villages in Malda.
The mass graveyard in choudua village for burying the dead at choufua village

Malda: At least 26 migrant workers from West Bengal were killed after an under-construction Railway bridge collapsed in Mizoram on August 23, 2023, all of them are from marginalised sections, either Dalits or among religious minorities.

On Friday, August 26, at 9:15 pm, after a harrowing 48-hour wait, three villages in West Bengal’s Malda district were witness to the heartbreaking homecoming of their sons. The young men from Ratua, Engrejbazaar, and Kalichak villages had left as migrant labourers to work in Mizoram on a bridge project, which tragically collapsed.

Choudua village in Ratua was centre of grief and disbelief. This village, in particular, mourned the loss of 11 of its own in the bridge catastrophe.  A total of 18 dead bodies made their way back to their respective villages from Saipung in Mizoram, adding to the grim tally of 23 deaths of migrant labourers from Malda district caused by the bridge collapse. 18 of these bodies were among the first retrieved by army personnel at the accident site in Mizoram.

From the afternoon of Friday, thousands of villagers congregated outside the homes of the deceased migrant labourers. As ambulances rolled by, family members couldn’t contain their anguish, creating a heart-wrenching scene. In the Choudua village of Malda district, the Rahman family endured tragedy, losing six young members, all from the same household, who had gone together to work on the bridge project.

Several leaders from mass organisations, including the Bangla Sanskriti Manch, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All India Kisan Sabha, the Migrant Labourers Union, and the Road Transport Workers Federation, visited the affected villages post-incident. Accompanied by the affected families, they demanded employment opportunities for at least one member of each victim’s family and fair compensation. Significantly, the Railways is yet to announce any plans regarding employment for the victims’ families.

SM Sadi, President of the West Bengal Migrant Labourers Union, highlighted the plight of over seven million migrant labourers working in other states, many of whom tragically died in accidents. He underscored the lack of job opportunities in Bengal, which forces residents, especially from rural areas, to seek menial employment elsewhere. Sadi also pointed out that it is ironic that despite central government initiatives like ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, ‘Amrit Kaal’, and the launch of Vande Bharat Express trains, incidents like the Odisha train crash, which claimed the lives of 103 migrant workers, continue to occur.

Earlier in the afternoon, Governor CV Ananda Bose visited the homes of the deceased labourers. In his presence, railway officials presented compensation checks to the grieving families, each receiving Rs 9,50,000 in check and Rs 50,000 in cash. He also mentioned that the Union Railway Ministry provides Rs 10 lakhs to the deceased, Rs 2 lakhs to the seriously injured, and Rs 50,000 to those with less severe injuries. The state government is also committed to providing compensation, with Governor Bose stressing the importance of collective efforts to support migrant workers.

Meanwhile,  West Bengal-based human rights groups have extended heartfelt condolences to families whose loved ones have been taken away from them due to this tragic event. We demand for proper investigation of the incident and due compensation to the families of the victims. A statement issued by MASUM states that “it is quite horrific to recount the number of casualties among the workers in these dangerous projects. In 2020, in a Hindi news portal named Amar Ujala, it was reported that at least 80 workers have lost their lives building the Atal Tunnel. We are seeing a repetition of the same in this case. This repeated incidence of deaths is simulating some genuine question on the safety standards of the work place in this mega-structure-projects.”

“The utter negligence of the government towards the lives of the working class, especially the migrant workers was exposed during the COVID-19 lock down. From the repetitive incidents which are putting the life of these fellow citizens in danger, we can understand the apathy is systemic. In India, the government has no proper register for the inter-state migrant workers.

“The migrants leave for other States in search for work at their own peril. Article 19(1)(e) of the Constitution, guarantees all Indian citizens the right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India, subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of the general public or protection of any scheduled tribe.  However, people migrating for work face key challenges including:

  • lack of social security and health benefits and poor implementation of minimum safety standards law,
  • lack of portability of state-provided benefits especially food provided through the public distribution system (PDS) and
  • lack of access to affordable housing and basic amenities in urban areas.

The ISMW Act provides certain protections for inter-state migrant workers.  Labor contractors recruiting migrants are required to: (i) be licensed, (ii) register migrant workers with the government authorities, and (iii) arrange for the worker to be issued a passbook recording their identity.  Guidelines regarding wages and protections (including accommodation, free medical facilities, protective clothing) to be provided by the contractor are also outlined in the law.

But the Central government had not made any concrete and fruitful efforts to ensure that contractors and employers mandatorily register the workers employed with them enabling access to benefits under the Act.

The statement says that

“The State Government cannot be absolved either. The lack of work opportunities in the State of West Bengal and a lower rate of wage are forcing an outward migration. For example, according to a report published by RBI in 2020, there is huge disparity in average daily wage of the workers in different parts of India. Per se, the average daily wage of a non-agricultural worker in the State of West Bengal was INR 291.0, while the same was INR 670, almost double, in Kerala. This disparity forces a huge number of people to pursue an uncertain journey to find livelihood from one part of the country to the other.  The state of West Bengal and Bihar contributes a huge number of migrant labourers in the construction projects in the Southern and other developed States in West Bengal. While all of the States in India have had a huge construction boom in recent times, the inequality in the average wage of a construction worker is quite striking. In West Bengal the average daily wage of a construction worker in West Bengal is INR 333.4, while in Kerala it is INR 837.7.

Meanwhile, media reports state that many among the deceased workers are from Indo-Bangladesh border region of Malda and Murshidabad district.

As an organisation working in the border region for the past 25 years, MASUM states that “they have seen that the rate of unsafe migration is much higher in the border region due to illegal restrictions put in place on the livelihood of the people by the Border Security Force (BSF). We have submitted 121 complaints from three districts along the border to the NHRC and the other government authorities regarding illegal restrictions and livelihood violations. But, sadly no proper measures have been taken by any authorities till date.

It is due to these combined sets of reasons the people from the State of West Bengal are under-taking unsafe migration and ending up in the death traps, states MASUM.

“Since the incident we have seen the representatives of the Union and State government has engaged in a blame game of “who did this”. In reality, all the appendages of the government are to be blamed equally for this tragic incident. We strongly condemn this blame-game after such a tragic incident.


Unorganized workers contribute nearly 50 percent to GDP and only about 6% of unorganized workers are covered by social security measures. More focus should be made on skilling the unorganized workforce (mainly agricultural labour) to make them better equipped in acquiring jobs in the organized sector.

Hence, a full and thorough investigation of the tragic incident of Mizoram to reveal the true cause. All those who flouted safe regulations and caused the deaths of workers must be booked under charges of murder and tried in the court of law


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