Inquiry ordered after migrant workers get ‘chemical bath’ upon return to UP
The Bareilly administration ordered an inquiry after a group of migrant workers, who arrived in the Uttar Pradesh city in the wake of a 21-day nationwide lockdown prompted by the fast-spreading coronavirus disease (Covid-19), were made to squat on a road and then sprayed with chlorine-mixed water on Monday.
A section of opposition leaders and social media users outraged over the treatment of the group after a video of the incident, which took place near a bus station, surfaced on Twitter, purportedly showing people, including children, herded in one corner of the road being sprayed with the disinfectant. Some Twitter users even alleged that the workers were given a “chemical bath”.
Ashok Gautam, the nodal officer incharge of the Covid-19 mitigation group, confirmed that the migrants were sprayed with chlorine-mixed water, but maintained the step was necessary to contain a possible spread of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which is causing the deadly infection.
“We tried to keep them safe and asked them to shut their eyes,” Gautam said. “It’s natural they will get wet.”
District magistrate Nitish Kumar said some officials may have crossed the line in the sanitisation drive involving the workers who arrived in special buses run by the government.
“We have looked into the video. Teams of Bareilly Nagar Nigam (civic body) and fire brigade were asked to sanitise buses. But they went overboard. We have ordered action against the concerned people. Those affected are being treated under the guidance of CMO (chief medical officer),” he tweeted.
Action against officials involved in the incident will be taken on the basis of the inquiry report, according to people in the know.
Earlier in the day, Kumar said there were orders to carry out medical check-ups on all those entering the city, while hoping that officials must have acted in accordance with the guidelines on sanitisation.
Girish Makker, a doctor in Bareilly, said: “Depending on the level of chlorine (mixed with water), it can cause burning and itching if applied on skin.”
Mohd Afzal, who was among the workers, said, “About 50 of us were sitting and waiting for food at the bus adda when some men in protective suits came and began spraying water on us. They said that they were from the sanitisation team and were sanitising us. The children began crying...”
Afzal, who worked in a courier company in Noida and is a resident of Shahjahanpur, said the children complained of itching in their eyes, while some developed rashes. “...most of us left Bareilly and decided to continue our journey on foot,” he said.
According to estimates, over 25,000 migrant workers from other cities have arrived in Bareilly so far, according to a district administration official who did not want to be named.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown beginning March 25, highways across the national capital and other metropolises have seen scores of people walking hundreds of kilometres with their belongings. Some have reached their hometown with help from officials.
While stranded migrants cited the shortage of money and food as reasons for leaving big cities, health experts warned that an exodus could run contrary to the purpose of the lockdown — breaking the chain of infections.
Reacting to the Bareilly incident, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted: “Request the UP government to refrain from such inhuman act when we all are fighting this pandemic. Workers have already suffered a lot. Please don’t bathe them in chemicals. It will not help them but will create more problems to their health.”
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati criticised what she termed a “cruel and inhuman” act, asking the government to immediately look into the matter.