Bihar Water Resources Minister and national general secretary of JD(U) Sanjay Kumar Jha speaks to The Indian Express on efforts to deal with the pandemic as well as the flood situation, and the upcoming Assembly elections.
Beginning May, a huge influx of returning migrants, unable to sustain themselves in locked-down cities, walking kilometres, starving in trains, reached the succour of home in Bihar. But with no work, and the lockdown affecting the rural economy as well with falling agricultural prices, they are leaving again.
In Bhagalpur, there is a steeply rising coronavirus curve, complicated by high poverty indicators in its 1,500 villages, thousands of migrants who have returned and are now unemployed, and the spectre of floods.
Bhagalpur battling a case spike, lack of manpower and complaints of negligence, the 800-bed hospital in Mayaganj, one of Bihar’s four dedicated Covid facilities covering several eastern districts, is under severe strain.
Nathu Kumar squints into his smartphone, as a teacher at his coaching centre explains medical concepts over a Zoom call. The teacher often mentions a writing board, but on the tiny screen, the board is even tinier.
On July 6, The Indian Express, as part of a month-long series to understand the effect of Covid-19 and the lockdown in smalltown India, had reported on the plight of children of the Musahari tola, a Mahadalit colony, in Badbilla village.
With the government extending the closure of schools at least till July 31, Keshav Desiraju, former Union Health Secretary, points to “serious questions that must be answered on education and malnutrition”.
With 60,000 returning migrants, and a Covid count touching 500, the district is also the focus of a month-long assignment by The Indian Express to track how lives and livelihoods in smalltown India are coping with the unlockdown.
With 63,962 returning migrants, a rising Covid curve, and a town full of aspirations, Bhagalpur is a microcosm of Bihar — where the system is tottering under the weight of numbers and the scale of unemployment.
It warned the five most affected states — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh — that going by current trends, they are projected to fall short in terms of ICU beds and ventilators between June and August.
Speaking at a virtual rally for Odisha from New Delhi, Shah also said that under previous governments the “Delhi durbar” stayed quiet when the country's borders were attacked, but that is no longer the case.