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Exclusives - 29 March, 2020

Bihar on the horns of a dilemma as thousands of migrants return

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday asked the nation’s poor for forgiveness, as the economic and human toll from his 21-day nationwide lockdown deepens and criticism mounts about a lack of adequate... #Biharonthehornsofadilemma

Samuel Mathai

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday asked the nation’s poor for forgiveness, as the economic and human toll from his 21-day nationwide lockdown deepens and criticism mounts about a lack of adequate planning ahead of the decision. “I would firstly like to seek forgiveness from all my countrymen,” Modi said in a nationwide radio address.

But then, the question here is, will the Prime Minister Modi’s pardon seeking placate the lakhs of migrant labourers who were rendered jobless and left hungry. In fact, Modi’s decision has stung millions of India’s poor.

After the Prime Minister’s call for a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus, the exodus of lakhs of migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and other parts working across the country has started. They are fleeing cities where they have been for years to earn livelihood and walking hundreds of kilometres to their native villages.

The situation in Bihar is explosive that over 50,000 migrant labourers working across the country have started returning to Bihar. But the government data of the state-run healthcare shows a whopping deficit of infrastructure facilities and a dearth of medical professionals.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar ordered that the migrant workers coming back to the state will be sent to a 14-day mandatory quarantine. The CM has also asked authorities to set-up relief camps for the migrant workers with regular supply of food.

The data released by the state government revealed a severe lack of hospitals and primary health care centres in the state. According to a 2016 report by the Department of Industry, Government of Bihar, out of the required 40 Medical colleges and hospitals the state only had nine hospitals functioning while it was short of 31 hospitals.

Out of the 38 required district hospitals the state had 36, while for the 212 required sub-divisional hospitals, the state only had 44. It also falls short of the required primary and rural health centres. Bihar has only 533 primary health centres while the required number is 3,314. The state has 1,350 additional primary health centres of the required 2,787 and 9,729 health sub-centres of the required 20,997.

After the migrant population started returning to the state, the state government has purchased 15,000 thermal screening kits and taken measures to screen the migrants. The state government has further ordered that village schools and the Panchayat Bhawans would be made to function as quarantine centres, a report by India Today stated. Other media reports stated that 3,500 people have returned from abroad to Bihar in the last ten days.

To cope up with the outbreak, the state government had ordered private hospitals- Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital and New Gardiner Road Hospital to close all the OPD facilities to make way for Coronavirus patients.

The state also falls short of the health care staff to deal with the pandemic outbreak. Of the sanctioned 701 specialist doctors, the state has only 390 doctors, whereas, out of the sanctioned 695 general doctors the state has 346 doctors and out of the required 4,957 staff nurses, the state has just 566 nurses.

On Sunday, in an attempt to ensure the countrywide lockdown that had gone off-track over the last few days, the Union government has ordered the states to seal borders and encourage migrant labourers to stay where they are by providing food and shelter. Those who violated lockdown and went home, should be placed in 14-day quarantine, the Centre said.

The terminuses and the packed buses - where people even sat on the roof - went against the government's efforts to ensure social distancing, the only way to slow down the progress of the highly infectious coronavirus. (With inputs from News Agencies)

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