WITH FIVE lakh migrants having returned to Bihar — and 40,000 of them arriving daily for the past one week — it has been increasingly challenging to manage quarantine centres for them at the village level and ensure social distancing.
Amid the lockdown, the Bihar government had decided to accommodate all the returning migrants in quarantine centres. More than 4,700 quarantine centres were opened at block levels to accommodate about 4.75 lakh people. However, government sources said the number of migrants returning to the state could touch 10 lakh by mid-June.
Last week, mukhiyas were asked to open quarantine centres at village levels to accommodate more migrants. However, the panchayat-level arrangements have run into hurdles.
In Dhouri village of Belhar, Banka, a quarantine centre at the village school has capacity to house 400 migrants. It accommodates people returning from red zones, mostly from Gujarat, Delhi, Maharashtra and Haryana. As there is no arrangement to house people coming from orange and green zones, they have been heading straight home and facing little resistance from villagers.
Siddharth Singh, a resident of Dhouri village, told The Indian Express: “After buses drop migrants near the village, there is no government official or policeman to guide them to quarantine centres. At least 23 people have left for their villages instead of going to quarantine centres. We alerted local police station in-charge Binod Kumar, who assured he would take the migrants to quarantine centres, but he did not turn up.”
Singh said there were some centres at Kumarsar in Munger that were functioning well, but there was lack of monitoring of village centres. Pappu Kumar, the son of Dhouri panchayat mukhiya, said: “I am asking ward members to find out if any migrant has reached home without completing quarantine. When I get information, I will alert the block development officer.”
In Lohan village of Shekhpura, 21 migrants were sent to a school-turned-quarantine centre. Only one room of the school was opened for them. There was no arrangement for food, so villagers got food from their homes.
Former Lohan panchayat (Shekhpura) mukhiya Valmiki Yadav said the system did not seem prepared to deal with the growing number of migrants. “Around 21 migrants were sent to our village school. There were no food arrangements. The room was not cleaned properly, so migrants spent the night in the verandah.”
Dharo Mahto, who has been staying at the school-turned-quarantine centre in Shekhpura, added, “Doctors’ visits are irregular. Hardly anyone maintains social distancing.”
Sanjay Soni, a Saharsa resident, said some inmates of the centre clashed with vegetable vendors after the latter protested free movement of those under quarantine. Migrants at a Samastipur quarantine centre also clashed over a scramble for water on Saturday.
Principal Secretary, Disaster Management Department, Pratyaya Amrit said: “We review all kinds of complaints every day and direct officers concerned. In Shekhpura and Belhar cases, the BDOs were alerted.” He said that while the department expects cooperation from the public in taking up an unprecedented task, the government has been taking action in case of any laxity.
A Panchayati Raj department official said: “It is the duty of the local mukhiya and ward member to inform police about any migrant skipping quarantine centre for home.”