Coronavirus | Migrant workers slip out of Bihar quarantine centres at night, return by day

Migrant workers slip out of Bihar shelters, allegedly lacking basic facilities, only to return for free food.

Updated - April 09, 2020 10:54 am IST

Published - April 08, 2020 07:37 pm IST - Patna

A file photo of migrant workers lodged in a government-run shelter home in Patna.

A file photo of migrant workers lodged in a government-run shelter home in Patna.

Many of Bihar’s migrant workers who have been quarantined in village schools and panchayat buildings after returning from elsewhere in the country are found missing from these centres at night with most of them likely heading home to join their families before coming back to the quarantine facilities in the morning, according to local village heads.

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Ever since the countrywide lockdown was imposed last month to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, Bihar’s government set up quarantine centres at 3,115 government schools and panchayat buildings in rural parts of the State. The government said more than 1.7 lakh people had returned to the State in the wake of the lockdown and as many as 27,300 of them had been lodged in these quarantine centres opened in different districts. However, several of those staying in these centres, usually for two weeks, told The Hindu over phone that though they were being provided with free food the shelters lacked even basic infrastructure like electricity, toilets and beds. “What to talk about sanitisers or masks,” they complained.

Village mukhias (heads), who have been asked to monitor the movement of those quarantined, often feel helpless under local pressure.

“In my village school building 14 migrants have been quarantined for the last three days but the building has no window, toilet, door or the bed,” admitted a village head of Saraiya block in Muzaffarpur district, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Only food is being served to them three times a day… so many of them come to their family at night and return back to the quarantine centre in the daytime for free food,” he added.

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Similar reports have also come from several village heads in Madhubani, Munger, Samastipur, Siwan, Sitamarhi, Araria and Katihar districts. The migrants placed in quarantine centres quietly slip away at night to join their families while coming back to the centre in the daytime. “Yes, free food is the only attraction for them, otherwise they would have not come to the centre even in the daytime,” asserted several village heads, who all declined to be identified.

The infrastructure at several village schools and panchayat buildings in Bihar is barely adequate with no toilets or washrooms. Many schools are windowless, have no doors separating rooms and are without running water or electricity supply. “Yes, it is difficult to stay at these stinking quarantine centres even for 24 hours,” rued a mukhia in Siwan district.

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“The government should have first developed infrastructure in government schools and panchayat bhawans before converting them as quarantine centres,” he added. “If the government really wanted to quarantine the migrants why didn’t they put them up at Patna’s newly constructed convention centres with capacity for thousands of people... given the facilities inside those places no migrants would have slipped away from there.”

Another village head from Saharsa district remarked, “the government has asked us to monitor the quarantined migrants’ movements but we feel helpless in checking their movement some times under local pressure”. “Moreover, how can we ask them to stay put in such hellish conditions at the local government schools, where swarms of mosquitoes start hovering overhead at dusk,” he added.

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However, at some other places in the State the village heads are getting support from the villagers themselves to restrict the movement of those quarantined. “Along with the villagers, I keep strict vigil on their movement and ensure that they do not come out of the centres,” said Ram Kumar Yadav, village head of Sirpur panchayat in Madhubani district.

And at Mabbi village, of Rosera in Samastipur district, as many as 18 quarantined migrants have found their own family members not only repeatedly rejecting their requests to be allowed to return home but also keeping a strict vigil on their movement. “Though it’s difficult to keep them there for two weeks, it’s in the interest of all of us,” said villager Jitendra Kunwar. “Yes, sometimes they try to sneak out at night to meet their wives or other family members but we’re vigilant and force them to return to the centre,” he added.

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