Patna: With quarantine centres having closed down in Bihar, returning migrants have been unhappy. Kamlesh Sahni, Suresh Prasad, Lakhendar Yadav and Mustafa Ahmad – all migrant workers – who had arrived in Bihar on Monday on Shramik Special trains, were asked to be in home quarantine, as government-run quarantine centres at block level were closed from June 15.
Ironically, the state government closed down all quarantine centres at block level from Monday, at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising by the day and spreading in rural areas. The infection is spreading to places where thousands of migrant workers, who were exposed to the novel coronavirus in red zones like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad, returned from, over the last 40 days.
“We fail to understand the government’s decision to shut down quarantine centres. Home quarantine is not possible because, in villages, we will be forced to mix with the locals; it was better if we had been put in the quarantine centre,” said Kamlesh Sahni.
The four migrant workers headed for their respective native villages as soon as they reached Patna, from Delhi. “How can we keep ourselves locked inside our homes? It is not possible. It may look good on paper but it is wrong to close down quarantine centres,” said Suresh Prasad.
Sahni, from Lalganj block in Vaishali district and Prasad, a resident of Paliganj block in Patna, were both working in a factory in Faridabad in Haryana. They were rendered jobless after the lockdown began, and decided to return home in order to survive.
Similarly, Mustafa Ahmad, who reached Bihar on Sunday, said it was the responsibility of the government to take care of the workers who had recently arrived, instead of leaving them to their own devices. “Can you imagine how a poor migrant worker could manage being in home quarantine? There should have been an arrangement for our quarantine. I will try my best to confine myself to my house, but it is a difficult task,” said Ahmad, who resides in a village in Goh, Aurangabad.
In May, the Bihar government decided to shut down quarantine centres and stopped the registration process for quarantining migrant workers from June 1. Prior to that, those who had returned to the state from outside, had to be kept in quarantine for 14 days. In addition, the government also ended the facility for transporting migrant workers to their home districts.
Over the last two weeks, thousands of migrant workers arrived in Bihar from other states, and were advised to be in home quarantine, after the government’s decision to close down quarantine centres. About 14,800 migrant workers arrived in nine special trains on Monday, with more expected to come in on Tuesday. Thousands of migrant workers are expected in the coming days. As a result, the government’s decision to shut down quarantine centres, has raised eyebrows.
Local reports from different parts of Bihar suggest that most of the migrant workers, who are supposed to be in home quarantine, were seen visiting nearby markets, roaming freely in the villages and mixing with villagers, without maintaining social distancing.
“This was expected when the government announced that it would shut down the quarantine centres and force the migrant workers to be quarantined at home. It is bound to create more trouble because it would lead to a further spread of the infection, and it is likely to contribute to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the state,” said Rupesh, an activist who has been involved in the distribution of food grains to the poor during the lockdown.
Bihar’s Disaster Management Minister, Laksmeshwar Roy, told NewsClick: “From now on, all the migrant workers who come in will be in home quarantine and the local administration will monitor the situation and take care of them.”
Roy said that till date, more than 15 lakh migrant workers had been quarantined at over 15,000 quarantine centres across the state, and that most of them had been discharged after they completed the 14-day period.
Anupam Kumar, Secretary, Information and Public Relations Department, said that till Sunday, more than 21 lakh migrant workers had returned to Bihar in 1,510 special trains. The first batch of stranded migrant workers had returned to the state on May 2.
According to senior officials of the state government, more than 30 lakh migrant workers had returned to Bihar from other states over the past month due to the nationwide lockdown.
Health Secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh admitted that the state is witnessing a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. He added that Bihar has 6,581 cases of COVID-19 at the moment, with 39 people having succumbed to the disease.