400 Odia migrant workers deboard from train to escape quarantine
The Shramik Special train carrying about 1,200 migrant workers from Namburu in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh was on its way to Bhadrak district this afternoon when about 400 migrant workers of Ganjam pulled chain at Chilika railway station.Updated: May 23, 2020 21:10 IST
Odisha’s headache over institutional quarantine migrants returning home continued as 400 workers from Andhra Pradesh got down from a Shramik Special train at the railway station near Chilika lake on Saturday in a bid to escape compulsory quarantine, officials said.
The Shramik Special train carrying about 1,200 migrant workers from Namburu in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh was on its way to Bhadrak district this afternoon when about 400 migrant workers of Ganjam pulled chain at Chilika railway station.
“They were supposed to get down in one of the two railway stations of Ganjam district. However, the train did not have any stoppage in Ganjam and was supposed to halt at Khurda road railway station from where they were supposed to travel to their respective quarantine centres in their panchayats. So when the train crossed Chilika, the migrant workers pulled the chain,” said a East Coast railway official.
The Government Railway Police later detained the workers at the Chilika Railway Station and informed the officials of Ganjam district who arrived with vehicles to ferry them to the quarantine centres.
Saturday’s incident has come on the back of dozens of such incidents involving migrant workers who are reluctant to stay in 21 days of institutional quarantine after long gruelling travel from their workplaces in other States. Since May 1, about 2.32 lakh migrant workers in different States have come back to Odisha and are being quarantined for 21 days in about 16,000 quarantine centres in rural areas.
“For the migrant workers, the quarantine centres have become virtual jails. Most of the centres don’t have basic facilities. After losing their jobs in their workplaces, the quarantine centres are adding to their stress,” said Pradip Pradhan, social activist.
With 90 per cent of the total 1,269 Covid cases being reported from those in quarantine centres, the government acknowledges the importance of the centres in containing the spread of pandemic, Yet in several quarantine centres, the migrant workers say the arrangements leave much to be desired.
Early this month, over 150 migrant workers fled the quarantine centre protesting lack of drinking water while in another such centre, they alleged that the food was inedible. On Saturday, 54 inmates of K Ramchandrapur quarantine centre of Ganjam district had blocked the Aska-Sorada road alleging lack of electricity and drinking water supply at the centre. A couple of days ago, the video of inmates of a quarantine centre of Bolangir district boycotting the food had gone viral.
With few clean and adequate number of toilets in several quarantine centres, there have been reports of many inmates defecating in the open. “The government through advertisements in social media had said the migrant workers would have a comfortable stay of 21 days in the quarantine centres. But on ground that is not happening,” said Sarbeswar Behuria of Jajpur district, a local panchayat leader.
In the quarantine centre of Dhunkapada grampanchayat in Ganjam’s Polasara block, the inmates alleged of dirty toilets and lack of hand sanitisers.
The rising positive cases among those quarantined has led to fear and apprehension among villagers towards migrant workers.
On Friday, hundreds of people in Bajipur village of Balasore district, a Covid hotspot staged a road blockade demanding that six migrants who had returned from Maharashtra be put in quarantine. “We have asked sarpanch, police and local tehsildar to keep the migrant workers in quarantine. However, no one seems to pay any heed,” the locals alleged.
Epidemiologist Binod Patra of AIIMS Bhubaneswar, said unless the government successfully manages the quarantine centre, the risk of community transmission may not be ruled out. “At least 3-4 lakh migrant workers are expected to arrive in the coming days. If the government fails to keep them at the quarantine centres for 21 days, the cases may just gallop in monsoon months,” he said.