Patna: Following the imposition of lockdown in Bihar to control the outbreak of COVID-19, hundreds of migrant workers who had arrived in Patna from across the country, are now stuck in the city unable to reach their native villages as buses are off the road. Currently, Patna’s Mithapur bus stand, which is the largest inter-state bus stand, is overcrowded with migrant workers who are staging protests demanding arrangement to help them reach their homes in different districts.
Nearly 5,000 migrant workers returned to the state on Sunday, March 22, by three special trains from Mumbai. Several hundreds of migrant workers from Gujarat, Delhi, Punjab, Bengaluru and Chennai have also reached Patna by different trains. However, they were forced to spend Sunday either at railway stations or bus stands due to the janta curfew when buses and other vehicles were not running.
After waiting for hours without food as hotels were shut and due to the state government not making any arrangements to send migrant workers to their native places, the stranded workers were left in the lurch. As anger mounted, the workers began raising slogans against the government, with one group staging a protest demanding the authorities to arrange vehicles for them.
Later, some buses were arranged by Patna district administration to ferry migrant workers free of cost but it was only sufficient for less than half of the total workers.
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“We reached Danapur Railway Station in Patna on Sunday noon from Mumbai but after that there is no bus or any vehicle available for us to reach our village from here. What can we do except cursing our fate? The government should have made adequate arrangement of buses or vehicles to help us reach native places,” said Suresh Rai, one of the hundreds of migrant workers who are still waiting at Mithapur bus stand for any transport to reach their village.
Rai’s views were echoed by Balam Prasad, Kamlesh Paswan, Nagendar Yadav and Mustafa Ansari, all of them migrant workers who are also stranded at the Mithapur bus stand since Sunday night.
Paswan told NewsClick, “We have no option left now except to hire a reserve private four wheeler to reach our homes. But we will have to shell out a lot of money because private vehicles are charging double than normal rate, taking advantage of our helplessness.”
According to police officials, even on Monday morning, some over crowded buses left the bus stand despite lockdown. An official added, “It was in violation of lockdown. There was no place inside the bus and dozens of migrant workers were seen sitting on the roof of the buses to reach their villages. Those who have returned already do not have any other option but to travel atop buses due to cancellation of trains.”
As the District Magistrate of Patna, Kumar Ravi, was informed about the violation, he ordered the closure of Mithapur bus stand and asked bus owners to vacate the stand within two hours. He also warned to seize buses if any were found to be violating the lockdown and that action would be taken against owners.
“It is not possible to walk or go by foot because my village is situated over 100 km away from here. There are others, whose villages are 200 to 300 km from here,” Prasad said.
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Other reports say that some migrant workers, who reached their village after travelling for over 24 to 40 hours, faced a different situation on their arrival. Much to their surprise, their own family members and neighbours opposed their entry in the village or home and forced them to visit a nearby hospital to stay in isolation ward after necessary check up fearing suspected coronavirus infection.
The state government has issued an instruction that all non-resident Biharis, including migrant workers and those visiting from foreign countries, have to stay in government school buildings and any other government building in the village in isolation for a few days before they will be allowed to go to their homes.
Experts say that thousands of migrant workers, who work across the country and used to visit their homes in Bihar only to celebrate different festivals or during marriage season, have been forced to return amid the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.
Most of the Bihari labour concentration can be found in Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Assam, Rajasthan and Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Pune also have a sizeable number of people from Bihar.
The state government, however, has no official records. Various estimates suggest that over one crore migrants from Bihar are permanently working outside. Besides, there are thousands who work as seasonal migrants. While the majority of the migrants from Bihar work in farms, factories, construction and infrastructure sites and other such unskilled work, many are also skilled professionals.
In Patna, the district administration has seized more than 50 auto-rickshaws for violating lockdown and fined dozens of motorcycles for roaming on roads without any emergency work on Monday.
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Meanwhile, Opposition leader, Tejashwi Yadav, has offered the state government to use his official residence as an isolation ward centre or test lab or quarantine ward for COVID-19 positive patients. He also announced to give his one month salary to Chief Minister Relief Fund to control spread of COVID-19 in the state.
Earlier, the former deputy chief minister had demanded that the state government immediately provide special economic assistance of Rs 6,000 each to the poor in view of closure of factories and other badly hit livelihood opportunities due to COVID-19.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader demanded an advance payment of Rs 5,000 and ration to pensioners as well as advance payment of partial salaries to government employees.
After the first death reported from coronavirus and two positive cases in Bihar on Sunday, the state government announced a lockdown till March 31 to check the spread of the disease. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced that the lockdown is being enforced in all districts, sub-divisional and block headquarters and municipal towns.
Roads in urban as well as in rural areas across the state wore a deserted look on Monday, while shops, markets and private organisations remained closed.