Patna: Hundreds of migrant workers, who had arrived at Katihar railway station in Bihar from Kerala by a Shramik Special train on Thursday, were lathi-charged by the police. The workers were protesting against lack of arrangement of buses by the government to ferry them to their home districts. More than half a dozen migrant workers sustained injuries after the police resorted to violence.
This incident occurred three days after the Bihar government shut down its registration process for quarantining migrants workers, who had returned from outside the state, for 14 days. The government also put an end to the facility of transporting migrant workers to their home districts.
The arrival of hundreds of migrant workers on June 4 has raised eyebrows over the government’s decision to not quarantine the workers and to close down all quarantine centres at block level by June 15. The government has decided not to register migrant workers who arrive in the state after June 1.
Officials from the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority said the registration process for quarantining migrants had been closed on Monday, June 1.
“If migrant workers are not quarantined, it is bound to result in a spurt of COVID-19 cases as government health officials have repeatedly attributed the rising number of cases in Bihar to the returning migrant workers over the last month. It is simple, if migrant workers mix with villagers without being kept in quarantine, it will result in spreading the infection,” a senior health official told NewsClick.
Mahendar Yadav, an activist from Bihar, said the government's decision is contrary to its earlier stand. Since early May, state government officials had been publicly expressing fear that the influx of migrant workers would spread the novel coronavirus and decided to set up government-run quarantine centres to keep them in quarantine.
The latest batch of migrant workers from Kerala, who have returned to Bihar, are not alone. Thousands of migrant workers continue to arrive at different railway stations across Bihar on Thursday.
According to government officials in Katihar, the migrant workers were angry after being informed that buses to take them to their home districts of Jehanabad and Saran had not been arranged for. The workers first created a ruckus and followed it up with a protest against the government within the premises of the railway station. The agitation then hit the nearby road.
Irked by their protest, dozens of police men on duty resorted to lathi charge.
“Migrant workers had blocked the Katihar-Purnia road near the railway station for over an hour. They had barricaded it with old bamboo to protest against the absence of buses to ferry them home. They also shouted slogans against the government but the police acted against them to disperse them,” said a district official who wished to stay anonymous.
Migrant workers said they demanded buses as they do not have enough money to arrange for transportation. “We reached Katihar after travelling in a train without food and water for over two days from Kerala. Much to our shock we came to know that there was no arrangement for buses made by the government. This has been done to harass us,” said Nagendar Rai, one of migrant workers, who hails from Saran.
Rai added that the bus drivers were demanding between Rs 500 to 1000 per person to take them home. “I have not eaten anything since Wednesday morning as I have no money left in my pocket to buy food. How can I arrange money for bus fare?” he asked.
Mukesh Kumar, another migrant worker, questioned the Railways decision to drop passengers off at Katihar instead of at their home districts. “This train should have dropped us off at Jehanabad railway station and Chapra railway station. Why did the train drop us off at Katihar, which is far away from our home? How we will reach our villages without any official arrangements? Most of us have no money to eat; how we will pay for a vehicle?” he asked.
However, after district officials assured the workers of buses to ferry them, they ended their protest.
According to top officials of the state government, more than 30 lakh migrant workers had returned to Bihar from other states over the last month due to the lockdown imposed to contain COVID-19. The first batch of stranded migrant workers arrived in Bihar on May 2.
As of Thursday, Bihar had 4,390 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 25 deaths reported. So far, the state has tested more than 85,000 samples in seven COVID-19 testing facilities in the state. Bihar Health Secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh said that 73% of the total COVID-19 cases had been attributed to migrant workers.
Singh said 3,079 migrant workers had tested positive for COVID-19 so far. He mentioned that 166 migrant workers had shown symptoms of the disease, a number which was revealed during a household survey of 4.08 lakh houses to screen migrant workers.
Information and Public Relations Department Secretary, Anupam Kumar, said that as of June 3, a total of 4,29,174 migrant workers were staying at 11,167 quarantine centres at the block level. He mentioned that 10,37,882 migrant workers had been discharged and had returned home after completing their mandatory quarantine period.