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Devbrat Patnaik

Bhubaneswar: As the day broke this morning, a sight that shocked many in Cuttack was that of around 15 passengers, reportedly migrants from COVID-red state Tamil Nadu, getting off a bus and walking towards some unknown destination. Sources said, three to four of them walked towards Jagatsinghpur and the rest are stay put in Cuttack.

Even as cases continue to explode, a bus carrying 30 Odia migrants from Tamilnadu's Kanchipuram reportedly dropped 15 passengers at OMP square in Cuttack today.

“We were 30 onboard- 15 from Kendrapara and 15 from Jagatsinghpur. When we reached Cuttack at around 5 AM today, there was none to receive us, neither did we get any response from anyone. We even contacted Jagatsinghpur district administration but they asked us to somehow manage to reach there. The permit of the vehicle is till Cuttack so the driver denied moving further. The truth of COVID management is right in front of you. Some of the returnees left for their homes on foot, and rest of us are stuck here," alleged one of the returnees.

The rest 15 who had to go to Kendrapara reportedly paid Rs 500 extra per head to the driver to drop them home apart from the Rs 5400 they had given for the journey per person till Cuttack.

Shockingly, after Centre allowed migration during the 3rd phase of lockdown, close to 5 lakh migrants registered to return to Odisha throwing the biggest challenge the government has had ever faced.

In another incident of administration apathy, 12 Odia migrants of Jajpur who had returned from Surat a few days ago along with 50-odd co-passengers were spotted roaming in Bhubaneswar after the bus they were travelling in deboarded them at the Kalpana Square, and then travelled towards Puri to deboard other passengers. As per the allegations, they dialled Helpline No. 100 and 104 for assistance, but there was no response. Left with no other option, they reportedly walked for some distance and then boarded a mini-truck headed towards their home districts.

Two days back, a bus from Telangana ferrying Odia migrants to Balasore reportedly dropped four passengers in Baramunda area of Bhubaneswar. They tried to contact the district administration but allegedly failed to get any response.

The other side of the migrant story looks just as dangerous. Sunday evening, a few migrants jumped off a train allegedly after pulling the emergency chain near Majhika on the outskirts of Angul town. So far, seven of them have been nabbed and sent to quarantine centres, while efforts are on to trace others.

There are countless such instances wherein the brought-back migrants have managed to flee quarantine, flouted social distancing guidelines or have created nuisance over alleged ill-management at the centres. Odisha Speaker SN Patro made a shocking revelation when he said that there are some inmates who were violating the quarantine rules by slipping out of the centres at night to join their families.

Even though several attempts were made to find out the status of such incidents, no response could be obtained from the concerned government officials. And with the daily press conferences being a one-way affair, all questions have remained unanswered.

Alleged inefficiency in COVID management and defiance by migrants- both seem to be paving way for COVID reds all over the State.

Meanwhile, the BJP and Congress have questioned the way the government has progressed with the objectives to deal with the returnees.

Senior BJP leader and LoP Pradipta Naik today said, "While it was mandated that migrants would be directly taken to quarantine centres, many are seen disembarking on way, thereby violating guidelines. The government doesn't look serious about this."

"It was also found that the returnees who deboarded train at Khurda Road junction were clueless and had to wait for hours as arrangements were not in place. Similarly, nodal officers appointed for Odisha in other States do not have any list with them detailing the whereabouts of the migrants. The government should streamline these things to ensure all migrants reach QCs safely," Naik said.

Citing that Odisha's situation with respect to COVID-19 is alarming, OPCC chief Niranjan Patnaik expressed apprehensions of a rise in cases in State up to lakhs.

"The government hasn't taken steps it should have taken. I am afraid coronavirus positive cases may go up to lakhs if it doesn't change the approach. I request the government to save the lives of each Odia. The onerous task of dealing with the influx of migrant workers needs adequate arrangements by the government, along with the support of civil society. In Ganjam district, around 30 to 40 thousand migrant workers have returned so far. Large-scale violations by returnees in quarantine centres poses a huge problem in stopping the spread of the deadly virus. The government must look into the matter promptly," stressed the State Congress president.

In response, BJD MP Munna Khan said, "It's not the time for allegations and counter-allegations. Everyone should come together during such a crisis."

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