West Bengal Home Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay on Tuesday said the government was in touch with the administrations of other states about sending back migrant labourers in a planned and staggered manner, pointing out that infrastructure in South Bengal was devastated by Cyclone Amphan last week.
The Trinamool Congress government has requested the Ministry of Railways not to send more than 15 trains a day. It also wants to quarantine the returnees at home instead of keeping them in institutional quarantine as schools and other buildings in villages are being used as cyclone relief centres.
“On an average, we can accept at least 10 to 15 trains, matching our capacity. Fine-tuning is obviously subject to bilateral discussions with other states. We have started allowing people to enter the state through roadways. People from Nepal and Bhutan are coming everyday from other states. Several lakhs of people have come back to West Bengal. So the pressure should be optimal and well-managed to the extent possible,” Bandyopadhyay told reporters.
Of the 225 special migrant trains asked for by the state, 19 have reached the state till date.
The Home Secretary pointed out that roads, schools and other buildings, and health infrastructure were damaged and under strain because of the storm, and there was insufficient food in the affected areas.
“Keeping these things in mind, we are in discussions with different state governments to bring in these returnees in a planned and staggered manner so that mutually acceptable schedules are honoured,” he added.
Some states, Bandyopadhyay claimed, were in a hurry to send back migrants. “A few states, at times, somewhat became busy releasing the trains from their states. Our Chief Secretary is having a discussion with his counterparts so that we are on the same plane, and the synergy is not disturbed,” he added.
Bandyopadhyay said the government was trying to “simplify certain procedures at different borders, different stations” to avoid putting pressure on quarantine centres and increasing the chances of people getting infected. “That is the reason we are framing our guidelines stressing on home quarantine instead of institutional quarantine,” he added.
The Home Secretary said asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic people entering the state “should go for home quarantine”. Those with severe Covid-19 symptoms would be provided “appropriate medical assistance”, he added.
“We are requesting people in areas where migrant labourers are returning to maintain social distancing, strictly follow home quarantine. Ideally, returnees should stay put in a completely separate enclosure. We do want to impose institutional quarantine in a sort of rigorous and overly bureaucratic manner. For that rules are being simplified,” said Bandyopadhyay.
Criticising the government, BJP leader Rahul Sinha said, “From the very beginning, Mamata Banerjee did not want to bring back migrant labourers to the state. Amit Shah ji already mentioned this in his letter. Now, using the cyclone as an excuse, Mamata Banerjee wants to further delay the return of the migrant workers.”
Meanwhile, the Home Secretary said those returning from abroad have to follow the rules as laid down by the Centre, adding that the state government was trying to set up an institutional hotel quarantine centre where such passengers will have to pay for accommodation.
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