With more than 30,000 migrants reaching border towns of Bihar via Uttar Pradesh and another one lakh likely to arrive by Monday evening, the Bihar government now seems to have woken up to the challenge of the return of migrants.
When the Prime Minister announced the 21-day lockdown, the Bihar government neither anticipated this crisis nor prepared for this challenge. While it was trying to prepare its district and sub-division towns to gradually screen migrants reaching villages and small towns, it seemed to be in denial about the scale of the crisis.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was upset at the UP and Delhi governments for allowing migrants to violate the lockdown and expressed apprehensions about the spread of COVID-19, has spoken to his counterparts from at least five states, including Maharashtra, requesting them to hold people where they are by setting up camps to provide them food, shelter and medical aid.
JD(U) national spokesperson KC Tyagi said, “Migrants being allowed to leave Delhi and other towns is like launching a health war against Bihar. When the PM stressed on community distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections, it should have been adhered to. How come UP CM Yogi Adityanath promised to arrange 1,000 buses? If migrants had to return, it should have been planned and well coordinated between Bihar and Centre and also Bihar and other states.”
Bihar disaster department principal secretary Pratyaya Amrit said, “We are setting up six transit camps along Bihar and UP borders. By Monday, we are expecting 1.30 lakh people to reach the borders of the state. We would provide food and stay and would take them to schools in their villages and panchayat bhavans where there are arrangements for their food, stay and self-quarantine.”
The lack of coordination was evident with Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi saying that two trains, one on 24 March and another on 25 March, ran unscheduled to Bihar and brought about 7,000 people to the state. As per rough estimates, about 35,000 migrants have already returned to Bihar and some of them have started living with their families after basic health check-ups — COVID-19 kits are unavailable in most block and subdivision towns. The state government has engaged mukhiyas of over 8,600 panchayats to make a list of migrants and to ensure they do not enter their villages without check-ups. Bihar Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar said they have a list of 1,790 people who have returned to Bihar from abroad since March 10.
Between the Janata Curfew decision on March 19 and lockdown on March 25, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar conducted at least four high-level meetings, deciding to give one month ration free to 1.68 crore card holders and three months’ pension (old age, widow and person with disability) to 87 lakh people. But there was barely any mention of plans to deal with migrants.
The CM had asked the Delhi resident commissioner to coordinate with other states to make arrangements for migrants. But Bihar AIMIM youth president Adil Hasan Azad said, “In four Seemanchal districts of Kishanganj, Purnia, Araria and Katihar, we have over two lakh people working outside the state. We are getting calls from several people saying that three phone numbers of the Delhi resident commissioner for Bihar are hardly accessible.”
Bihar BJP which has set up a call centre to assist migrants has received over 5,000 calls from across the state with several complaints of state apathy.
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