Mood in Bihar quarantine camps: ‘Coronavirus ko chabaa jayenge’

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Published: April 8, 2020 2:53:18 AM

Of about 1.8 lakh migrant workers who returned to the state before or during the lockdown, about 27,300 who came after March 17 were sent to 3,115 schools and panchayat bhawans that were converted into quarantine centres.

Of about 1.8 lakh migrant workers who returned to the state before or during the lockdown, about 27,300 who came after March 17(Representational Image: Indian Express)

Pappu Kumar, 22, sits on the edge of his bed in a classroom at the Madhopur Middle School in Hetanpur panchayat, thumbing his smartphone. Days before the March 24 lockdown, Pappu, a labourer at a flour mill in Chandigarh, came home to Hentanpur village, 15 km from Patna, only to be asked to stay in the school-turned-quarantine centre for 14 days. There are about a dozen other beds in his room, and they are empty.

Of about 1.8 lakh migrant workers who returned to the state before or during the lockdown, about 27,300 who came after March 17 were sent to 3,115 schools and panchayat bhawans that were converted into quarantine centres.
According to protocol, the state health department has to test samples of those displaying symptoms. About 55,000 of the 27,300 migrants had returned from Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Delhi, and were to be continuously monitored and screened for symptoms. The other migrants have been told to stay in “home quarantine”.

But that’s on paper. The Indian Express visited three of five centres in the Danapur riverine area and found most of the migrants on the 14-day quarantine list missing. The Danapur riverine area has six panchayats and a combined population of 80,000, with almost every household having at least one person working outside the state.

Middle School, Madhopur, Hetenpur panchayat

Present: 1/20 on quarantine list

Two rooms at the school have been set aside to accommodate the 20 migrants who have been placed under quarantine.

Wearing a mask, school teacher Arvind Kumar says Pappu Kumar is the only inmate present at the quarantine centre at that time. Opening the door to the second room, Arvind says, “There are 20 people who are supposed to be here. But right now, there is only one person. The others are out working in their fields.” The marketplace outside the school is bustling, with shops and foodcarts doing brisk business. No sign here of the 21-day lockdown that’s in effect across the country.

Jitendra Kumar, 22, is hanging out here. Isn’t he supposed to be home? “Corona? Hum to corona ko chaba jayenge. Humlog mehnat karne wale aadmi hain, shaharwalon ki tarah najuk nahin. Humlogon ka corona kuchh nahi bigaad sakta hai (We will chew this coronavirus alive. We are hard-working, not delicate like townspeople. Corona can do nothing to us).”

A couple of hours later, this correspondent drops by at the school again. This time, all the beds are all occupied. Apparently, the mukhiya had got to know about the “inspection” and asked all migrants to follow norms.

High School, Havaspur, Patlapur panchayat

Present: 18/60 on quarantine list

Most of the 60 migrants under quarantine at the Havaspur school had returned to the village in a truck, all the way from Kolkata, where they worked mostly as daily wagers or drivers or ran small provision shops. It is lunch time. On the menu today is rice, dal, potato curry, and papad. Some of the 60 people under quarantine have already eaten; others, who are out working in the fields, will join soon. None of the migrants at the centre is wearing a mask. The two teachers on duty to take care of migrants say they have been provided gloves and sanitisers.

Most of the classrooms that have been set aside for quarantine facilities are empty, with no sign of luggage by most beds. The centre has 10 beds, besides mattresses laid on carpet for others. Dilip Rai and Raju Rai say they own provision shops in Kolkata and that they will return as soon as the lockdown ends.

Vijay Rai, who worked as a driver in Kolkata earning Rs 8,000 a month, says: “Jaana hi padega (we will have to go back).” What he is waiting for is a green signal from the doctor. “They told us we can go back once doctor saab comes and screens us. Par koi nahin aaya ab tak (But no doctor has come yet).”

Some distance from the school, villagers in Havaspur sit talking about the quarantine centre. “No one follows any quarantine there. They go there for breakfast, lunch and dinner and are home or out in the fields the rest of the time. But most of them spend the nights at the centre. What if there is a sudden inspection? This is a joke,” says a villager and the others burst out laughing.

Panchayat Sarkar Bhavan, Gangahara panchayat

Present: 0/40 on quarantine list

There’s no one at the gates of the panchayat building. No one in a room on the ground floor either, just four beds spread out on the ground. Soon, Rakesh Kumar Singh, an executive assistant at the panchayat office, emerges. “I am not in charge of the quarantine centre. My job is to give periodic reports to the Block Development Office on panchayat works.”

Singh, however, has a list with names of 40 people who are supposed to be in quarantine at the centre. Most of them from had returned from Kerala on March 26. In Gangahara panchayat, villagers admit no one stays in the centre. “Kya lockdown? Kya corona?”, says a villager, before offering a conspiracy theory. “All of us think this coronavirus is some kind of government plan to extract funds. After all, how can someone who has walked miles to reach here have corona?”

When told about the status of quarantine centres on the ground, Bihar Principal Secretary, Disaster Management, Pratyaya Amrit, told The Indian Express, “We have taken serious note of it and asked the Patna DM to take action. Our action will set an example for violators of quarantine in other districts. We are also ensuring doctor visits to all these centres.”

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