Struggling to contain the pandemic in its jurisdiction, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) was caught up in an unusual situation as around half of the migrants shifted in temporary shelter homes since lockdown were refusing to return home despite the civic administration making arrangements.
The PMC had created shelters in civic schools for the migrants and homeless in the city after the nationwide lockdown was announced in March. A total of 1,621 migrants have been staying in the shelters. They include construction labourers, who were left unattended by their contractors and real estate developers after the work was shut down, and the homeless living on streets and footpaths. The authorities also forced many migrants who were trying to leave the city on foot, to stay at shelters.
“Of the 1,600 migrants that were provided shelter in civic schools, around 930 don’t want to return home despite PMC making arrangements for their return,” said a civic official.
The PMC, with the help of local organisations, has been providing food and other facilities to these migrants, the official added.
However, Additional Municipal Commissioner Shantanu Goel said, “This is incorrect that the migrants are refusing to return to their home. We have started the process of sending them by taking their consent and getting their medical checkup done.”
Now, the PMC has decided to set up quarantine centres in civic schools for suspected COVID-19 patients and their close contacts.
Goel agreed that shelter homes at civic schools were being vacated of migrants to make place for quarantine facility. “The PMC also has night shelters, where those not willing to return home could be accommodated. If still a few of them are left, then a list will be prepared and handed to the city police,” Goel said, adding that the civic body will seek the police’s help for vacating the shelters at civic schools. He said the police have already been helping the PMC at shelters.
Another PMC official said that the biggest challenge was to get the shelters vacated of the homeless, who came from streets and are now refusing to go.
“We don’t know if they have a home… If they are asked to leave the shelter, they will again be on streets and add to the troubles of authorities engaged in containing the pandemic,” the official said, adding that the city police would be informed about it so that a decision could be taken to resolve the issue.
Vaishali Patkar of Aundh Vikas Mandal, an organisation that has been providing food and other essential items to migrants in a few shelter homes, agreed that migrants not returning home was a big issue and needed to be resolved carefully. “They should be given one-month grocery while sending them back to their homes. They should also be assured of work after their return to the city after the lockdown is over,” she said.
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