Patna: Thousands of migrant workers who arrived in Bihar by special trains in the last five days and were sent to temporary quarantine centres situated near their homes, are under distress. Poor quality food and lack of basic amenities including cleanliness and proper sanitation facilities have added to the problems of the migrants who have arrived in the state after facing severe living conditions during the ongoing lockdown.
Disappointed with the facilities, there are several reports of migrant workers expressing their anger over the mismanagement at dozens of quarantine centres in government-run school buildings, panchayat buildings and other buildings across Bihar.
Take for instance the case of a quarantine centre in Katihar district, where 25 migrants fled from the centre alleging poor quality of food and lack of sanitisation. Before fleeing, they had alleged that they were being treated like animals at the quarantine centre. Several migrant workers have demanded district authorities to allow them to home quarantine in place of putting them in a quarantine centre.
A district police official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that the migrant workers while escaping from the quarantine centre informed local residents that they are human beings but they were treated like animals and forced to sleep on the ground floor without a proper bed. However, the local administration traced 10 of 25 migrant workers and brought them back to the quarantine centre on Wednesday.
In another case, migrant workers sheltered at quarantine centres in Purnea, Araria and Kishanganj tried to escape but were stopped by the police.
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Several reports from Koshi and Seemanchal region, which comprise nearly a dozen districts including Katihar, Purnea, Araria, Kishanganj, Madhepura, Saharsa, and Supaul, show that a similar condition of the quarantine centres. In several centres, there are lack of proper sanitation and toilet facilities.
According to officials, Koshi and Seemanchal are the hubs of marginalised migrant workers because of the high rate of poverty added with backwardness for years.
Similarly, there is a common problem of lack of cleanliness, sanitisation in quarantine centres in Gaya, Jehanabad, Arwal, Aurangabad and Nawada districts. Reportedly, most migrants have been dependent on food from outside, mostly from their nearby homes due to poor quality food served to them by authorities.
A group of migrant workers sheltered at a quarantine centre in Jehanabad claimed that arrangements are only for name sake. They are served boiled tasteless food and one dirty toilet.
All these reports are contrary to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s repeated directive to top officials to provide all facilities at quarantine centres for migrant workers, who have to stay there for 21 days,
The state government has set up more than 2,500 quarantine centres in 38 districts. The state Disaster Management Department’s principal secretary, Prata Amrit, said that more quarantine centres will be set up in view of increasing number of migrant workers arriving in the state on daily basis. At present, more than 12,000 migrant workers are staying at quarantine centres.
Health Department secretary, Sanjay Kumar, said that minors coming from outside along with their parents were allowed for home quarantine after proper screening by the medical team.
The Bihar government officially said last week (on the basis of calls received on the helpline) that there were over 28 lakh stranded migrant workers from the state across the country. Contesting these official claims, some experts estimate that the number would be between 35-40 lakh.
Information and Public Relation Department secretary, Anupam Kumar, said 10 special trains carrying migrant workers from different states arrived in Bihar on Tuesday, May 5, and 12 special trains arrived on Wednesday. He added that about 60 special trains are expected to arrive with migrant workers in the coming days.
The first special train carrying migrant workers arrived in Bihar on Saturday, followed half a dozen more trains on Sunday and Monday.
Also read: Majority of Migrant Workers Received No Help from Govt or Employers During Lockdown, Says Study
Additional Chief Secretary Amir Subhani had said most of these migrant workers were stranded in Delhi, Surat, Mumbai, Kolkata, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Visakhapatnam and Bengaluru, among other places. According to him, several stranded migrant workers had applied for the Rs 1,000 assistance announced by the state government.
According to government data, over 1.8 lakh migrant workers returned to Bihar after the lockdown began. Unofficial figures doing the rounds say more than three lakh workers had already returned to Bihar after March 22.
The state government has identified 3,217 clusters in 160 districts across the country where most of the migrant workers are stranded.
Till Wednesday, Bihar had 536 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with four deaths reported. So far, the state has tested more than 30,000 samples and there are six COVID-19 testing facilities in the state.