Devbrat Patnaik

Bhubaneswar: A sudden outbreak of novel coronavirus (n-CoV) and the subsequent nationwide lockdown triggered a mass exodus in States across the country. Approximately 5 lakh migrant workers wanting to get back to Odisha registered their names with the government portal after the Centre allowed migration in the 3rd phase. Since May 3, 223847 migrants have returned to Odisha by Shramik special trains, buses, and other vehicles.

Let's have a look at how Odisha planned the COVID management in the aftermath of the exodus.

Considering the incubation period of the coronavirus, the State Government increased the quarantine period from 14 days to 28 days, which includes 21 days institutional quarantine at the temporary medical camps (TMCs) and subsequent seven days home quarantine.

TMC in-charges were advised to involve the quarantinees in food preparation, campus cleanliness, sanitation of the facility, development of the campus and its facilities like repair works of the TMC, levelling/ development of nearby playground as well as plantation within and near the TMC campus. In case the quarantinees contribute voluntary service for such activities, incentives of Rs 150 per day for up to 10 days (i.e. up to Rs 1500 per quarantinee), as honorarium will be paid from CMRF, the government said.

Odisha government also fixed expenses for foods being served to migrants undergoing mandatory quarantine after their return to the State. While Rs 120 is being spent for food of an adult per day, the cost is Rs 100 for minors. Besides, Rs 300 is being spent on hygienic kits of the migrants, claim sources. The government had also promised to give Rs 2000 to the inmates as incentives, post completion of the quarantine period.

But how is the situation at the facilities where they are lodged? ‘Horrible’, allege most of the quarantinees.

Let's look at some instances:

To start with the government claims, a video shared by Ganjam administration showed a migrant worker being served rice, dal, chicken on the platter and how he even agrees to stay in quarantine for 30 days because of the quality of food. But not every centre managed to satiate the basic food requirements of the returnees.

The food menu is par average but the implementation is reportedly a big zero in most of the centres. The hunger crisis coupled with alleged mismanagement at once silenced the tall claims of the government.

On Day-1 itself, around 100 returnees fled quarantine centre in Ganjam alleging lack of facilities, before they were traced and brought back. A day later, inmates of another centre threw food citing that it was of substandard quality.

As days progressed, numerous reports came to the fore where quarantinees complained about being served sub-standard food and they even shot videos and made them viral.

A video reportedly emerging from a quarantine centre in Bhanpur panchayat of Khaprakhol in Bolangir district showed how inmates are served only rice, dal, lemon and onion in their lunch. The situation looked worse in Balikuda and other areas of Jagatsinghpur district. Inmates of the TMC at Baharana panchayat under Balikuda block alleged that the flattened rice served to them is infested with pests. Besides, insects were also found in cooked meals, a video of which has gone viral. Similar allegations poured in from Jamugaon TMC and Purohitpur TMC.

In another incident reported from Banki of Cuttack district, a youth who had returned from Jajpur was shifted to a centre, which allegedly was devoid of any government staff. Shockingly, his parents took home-made food for him and accompanied him throughout the day and night.

Sarkarnagar village in Balasore reportedly didn't have a quarantine centre and the outcome was a 30-year-old man had to spend three days in the toilet of his home as the local sarpanch asked him to stay in home quarantine for 14 days. He was however shifted to a school three days later.

Even the returnees are not leaving any stone unturned to foil the admin's strategy. In Bhadrak, seven inmates of a government quarantine centre were booked under Sections 188/269/270 of IPC and Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act for shot a TikTok video thereby violating social distancing guidelines. Some days back, 10-15 returnees had pulled the emergency chain and jumped off train before reaching the destination.

A similar incident surfaced today. The GRP personnel detained over 400 migrants who reportedly tried to escape after deboarding a special train at Chilika railway station by pulling emergency chain. The train was en route to Bhadrak from Andhra Pradesh.

Problems are aplenty. A few quarantinees in Soro block & municipality fumed after administration said that swab samples of only symptomatic people would be collected, and not from all inmates. A few district administrations turned deaf ears to the desperate pleas of the returnees seeking food and accommodation.

The inmates of a TMC in Binayakpur village of Bhadrak district have alleged lack of basic facilities at the centre. Insufficient beds, plus there is no electricity at the centre as per allegations, and when asked the nodal officer also acknowledged. The inmates at a quarantine centre in Semelmunda village under Muribahal block of Bolangir district refused to have breakfast alleging poor food quality.

Social media platforms are replete with incidents pointing at lack of facilities at TMCs. While in some districts there are separate centres for women, 5-6 women lodged at an ashram school in Kendrapara have alleged that they are feeling unsafe due to common bathroom. Another centre lodged returnees which had only one woman and rest men.

Today, 54 inmates of K Ramchandrapur quarantine centre block Aska-Sorada road alleging lack of electricity & drinking water supply at the centre. The BDO later reached to solve the issues.

Some centres were reportedly in detestable condition without a bed, flies & bugs all around the rooms lacking adequate staff.

Nonetheless, following media reports on the day-to-day scenario, on most occasions, officials of the district administrations along with nodal officers reached TMCs from where complaints have emerged and ensured that the problems are resolved.

It remains to be seen that with more and more Shramik trains scheduled at regular intervals, how the government handles the issue in the coming days.

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