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India: Migrant workers return to Bihar fearing fresh COVID-19 lockdown

Bihar migrants workers
Migrant workers from Bihar return to their homes fearing a fresh lockdown in view of the surging COVID-19 in the country, at Patna railway station, Bihar, on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.
Image Credit: Lata Rani / Gulf News

Patna: Thousands of migrant workers from Bihar who went out in search of jobs after COVID-19 restrictions were eased are returning to their homes once again, fearing a fresh lockdown in view of the surging COVID-19 cases in the country.

The coronavirus cases hit a grim milestone on April 4 when the daily cases crossed 100,000 for the first time in six months, highlighting the seriousness of the situation. This has raised fears of a fresh lockdown among migrants who don’t want to face the kind of ordeal they underwent last year when the Indian government enforced a nationwide lockdown from March 24, leaving millions stuck in various cities without jobs and food.

In the past few days, hundreds of migrant workers have returned to their homes in Bihar on buses, trucks and trains. Most of the migrants are returning from Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the kind of states that have reported the maximum number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Local media has reported how panic-stricken migrants are returning to their homes with family members in tow to ensure they don’t get stuck in a alien place of there is a lockdown. The only difference this time is that they are not walking to reach their native towns though panic and fear are writ large on their faces.

“We feel there are chances of a fresh lockdown due to a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases,” said Sahil Oraon, who was found waiting for a bus at Balthari check-post in Gopalganj district on Uttar Pradesh-Bihar border to reach his home in Samastipur district. Oraon, who returned here with a dozen youth, worked in Punjab.

“No-one knows what will happen next. So, we decided to reach our home before we get caught in serious difficulties,” he added.

Mohammed Abdul Rasheed who returned to his home in Muzaffarpur from Amritsar in Punjab said: “I am not alone. As many as 30 people have returned from Punjab. Everyone wants to go home in the current situation.”

Another migrant worker Kamlesh Tiwari said there were maximum chances of lockdown to be imposed in Punjab. “Hence, we left the place to escape future troubles,” said Tiwari, who hails from Muzaffarpur district.

Last year, thousands of migrant workers were seen walking home in the scorching summer, keeping their petty belongings on their head and carrying their babies in their arms, after transport services were suspended when the government enforced a lockdown. The scene was on display for more than two months until the government finally decided to run Shramik Special trains.

Others like Arif Raza, a migrant worker from Katihar district who worked in a plastic factory in Rajasthan, left after the government imposed night curfew there. Raju Kumar of Patna City, Ranjan Mandal and Triveni Shankar of West Champaran and Vikrant Kumar of Samastipur returned home afer they were fired by their respective companies.

“I had left for Delhi just two months back in search of a job but when I got work, I was asked by the company to go home citing severe coronavirus infection. I had no option either,” said Triveni Shankar.

Many workers from Bihar didn’t return to their old places of work after the Holi festival in view of rising coronavirus cases and are keeping a close watch on the situation. Most of these workers had returned to their homes to celebrate Holi with their family members. They are refusing to move out now after finding out through newspapers and social media about the limited lockdown and night curfews in some towns. Most railways stations in north Bihar which would usually witness a rush of passengers to catch trains are less crowded now.

COVID-19 cases have spiked in Bihar too. In the past fortnight, the cases have registered more than a nine-fold increase. A report of the Bihar health department said the total active COVID-19 cases in Bihar which were recorded at 436 on March 19 climbed to 4,143 on April 5.

For the past three days, COVID-19 cases have crossed 800 in the state.

The surge in COVID-19 cases has prompted the Bihar government to shut schools, colleges and coaching institutes till April 11 and ban all public gatherings till the month-end. The surge has also prompted the government to defer the examinations for Bihar Judicial Services and Project Director scheduled to be started from April 8.


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