TNW, Patna, May, 18: Tired looking Phulwa Devi, along with Deepak Yadav and Ramnaresh Prasad, suddenly stopped near the over bridge on the bypass highway in the outskirts of Patna on Saturday (May 16) morning. Carrying a jute bag on her head, another one in her hand and a water bottle in the other, she had stopped to relax after having walked for over four hours since early morning. Phulwa is on the way to her native village in Madhepura district and had started her journey on foot from Haryana, where she used to work in the construction sector which had shut down after the countrywide lockdown began nearly two months ago.
“What can we poor do except to cover such a long journey on foot? There was no arrangement by the government to send us back home after lockdown. We had managed to survive by eating one time over a month with our little savings. But when we ran out of money, we started walking on the road and have now reached Patna. If we are lucky, we will reach home in the next two to three days,” Phulwa narrated her painful experience while eating puri-sabzi being provided by a local social body.
Phulwa, who belongs to an extremely backward caste said it was the local people, who had given them food and water during this difficult journey on foot. “I had never expected to face such a situation in life. The lockdown snatched our livelihood and has forced us to go back home. I want to be alive,” she said while wiping tears from her eyes.
She is also worried about her husband and grown up, who were separated from her when they boarded a truck on the way. But unable to board the same truck, she was forced to continue her homeward journey on foot. “I have no idea where they are and in what condition. I don’t have a mobile phone, only my husband has one set,” she said.
She is one of the thousands of migrant workers, who have undertaken the journey of thousands of kilometres to their homes on foot, through cycles, taking help of motor-thela, cycle-thela and other such vehicles. Hundreds of such migrant workers can now be seen on the bypass highway, all of them set to cross Gandhi Setu on river Ganga to enter north Bihar on way to their native places from outside.
Till Saturday (May 16) more than 3.60 lakh migrant workers have arrived by 371 special trains in Bihar from outside, mainly from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and other states. More migrant workers are likely to reach Bihar by 150 more special trains in the coming days.
The first batch of migrant workers arrived in Bihar on May 2 by a special train from Jaipur. Later, the number of special trains carrying migrant workers were increased. About 40 special trains with 60,000 migrant workers have reached on Saturday and on Friday, 36 special trains with 47,000 migrant workers arrived.
Till Friday, 37 special trains from Gujarat, 34 from Maharashtra, 28 from Punjab, 26 from Rajasthan, 21 from Haryana and 11 each from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, 9 from Delhi and 8 from Andhra Pradesh reached Bihar with migrant workers.
As per official data, more than 65,000 migrant workers have also arrived in Bihar by buses in last two weeks.
However, state government has received information from over 8,000 panchayats across the state on Friday afternoon that about 20 lakh (2 million) migrant workers from outside are likely to reach Bihar after May 14. This figure was based on the list of possible migrant workers, who are likely to return home, collected from each panchayat by elected village body representatives.
According to officials, the Bihar Panchayat Raj Department had directed all the districts two days ago to collect a list of migrant workers likely to return to their native village with the help of mukhiya (village body head). Following this, all district administrations have collected panchayat-wise data of likely migrant workers to return home. “All the districts have sent the panchayat wise data collected through mukhiya to the department on Friday. This data was collected on the basis of information provided by villagers in each panchayat that there was information of number of migrant workers to return home after May 14,” an official told NewsClick.
Information and Public Relation Department secretary, Anupam Kumar, said the state government has set up more than 5,162 quarantine centres. He said that more quarantine centres will be set up in view of the increasing number of migrant workers arriving in the state on a daily basis. At present, more than 3.50 lakh migrant workers are staying in the quarantine centres. Besides, there are 158 relief camps in which more than 75,000 people are staying.
As of Saturday, Bihar had 1,080 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with seven deaths reported. So far, the state has tested more than 44,398 samples and there are seven COVID-19 testing facilities in the state.
According to officials, 391 out of more than 3 lakh migrant workers who had arrived in Bihar from other states over the past twelve days had tested positive for COVID-19. Of them 122 of them returned from Delhi, 105 from Gujarat, 77 from Maharashtra, 23 from West Bengal and 21 from Haryana.
Ironically, state Health Department officials continued to blame return of migrant workers in large numbers for contributing in spike of COVID-19 positive cases.
The ruling JD-U spokesperson Nikhil Mandal said Bihar government’s strategy of keeping the returning migrants separated from rest of the state has once again proven prudent as statistics suggest that migrants returning to Bihar are three times more vulnerable to be infected than those with no travel history.