Coronavirus: Why Was The Bihar Govt Silent On The Return Of Migrants?

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.
A screengrab from the video.

As I practice my own ‘privileged’ isolation under the ‘Corona regime’ with much of the time spent in social media, yesterday evening a heart-wrenching video posted by a friend shook me up. A young boy crying and desperate to go back home in Bihar and couldn’t find transport, and was anxious with no place to stay at night in Delhi.

This was on March 24, two days after the Bihar government declared a lockdown in Patna on March 22. The boy looked very young and must be one of those young migrants to Delhi. (according to a study by IIPS, the average age of migrants in Bihar is 32 years).

The Bihar Chief Minister, on March 25, came up with a relief package, a day after the 21-day lockdown announced by the centre. The package has been silent on health system facilities, testing and isolation facilities, and no special mention of migrants coming back.

Bihar, as one of the states with high migration, showed no preparation to welcome the migrants back during the Coronavirus pandemic. With the pandemic rising up globally, people started coming back during early March. Till March 15, Patna airport had no thermogun or any other measures to screen passengers. (My spouse came from Bangalore on March 15, on a late-night flight, and there was no screening facility.) It was understood for migrants travelling from outside the country (mostly middle-east), that their first port of entry will be primarily either Delhi or Kolkata, and they will be checked there. However, there has been a large influx happening from other parts of the country.

The Migration Census 2011 data showed around 71.48 lakh people in Bihar when it came to interstate migration, out of which, a significant portion migrated to Jharkhand (14.04 lakh), West Bengal (11.49 lakh), Delhi (11.48 lakh), UP (11.21. lakh) and Maharastra, a state which reported one of the highest numbers of Corona-positive cases, (6.31. lakh).

Even if 100 % of them are not coming back, it was sure that a significant number will be pouring back to their home state, as many of these destination-states have been impacted and were on the verge of lockdowns. Even more serious was that a significant number of people, mainly from Delhi, UP, and West Bengal, will travel by train and road routes, and enter through multiple borders. I was informed by one of my doctor friends, Dr Ravikant from Doctors for You, that on March 22 alone, 11,000 migrants had reached Bihar.

Till March 15, there was no facility at the airport. Stations started having the thermogun facility to screen after March 20, and on March 22, Bihar reported the first death even before the positive report came in. As I heard from local NGOs in various districts, there was no preparation till March 22 for the migrants coming in. Stories came in of people coming back, taking paracetamol to suppress temperature, hiding in their places, and being hunted down. There will be more wrenching stories in the coming days.

Even as I write this, the curve of the positive cases will go up. It is at this juncture that we must ponder over a few questions and must give them serious attention.

LUCKNOW, INDIA – MARCH 26: Migrant workers leave Lucknow on the second day of national lockdown imposed by PM Narendra Modi to curb the spread of coronavirus at Faizabad crossings, on March 26, 2020 iN Lucknow, India. (Photo by Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

According to a recent study conducted by the Institute of Population Science (IIPS), more than half of the households in Bihar are exposed to migration to more developed places within or outside the country, and a majority of the households depend on remittances for their livelihood. The report ‘Causes And Consequences Of Out-Migration From The Middle Ganga Plain’ was jointly released by IIPS and State Education Minister Krishnandan Prasad in February 2020, and covered 2,270 households across 36 villages. (accessed on March 25th 2020).

The study shows that the highest migration rate occurs in the traditional migration pockets of Saran, Munger, Darbhanga, Kosi, Tirhut, and Purnia, and that 90 % of the migrants work in private factories or as casual labourers. They were bound to come back once the Coronavirus pandemic broke and the units were shut down.

Was the government not able to understand this influx?

Presently, there is an instruction to the district hospitals to have 10 isolation beds so that anyone with symptoms can be isolated, and samples can be taken and sent to Patna for testing. Right now only Rajendra Memorial Research Institute of Medical Sciences (RMRI) has the testing facility, and on an average, 50 to 60 tests are being conducted per day (through an official source).

Till March 25, 4 positive cases were reported. A Madhubani-based organisation reported on March 25 that in the stations there is now screening of incoming groups, that they are and putting a seal on them if they are ok. For the rest, they are sending them to health facilities which are close to nothing.

Few of the Block Officials have been innovative to initiate some measures. Block Education Office of Madhepur announced a list of schools where they have arranged for food and shelter for migrants coming back. The understanding is that they are denied at their own homes and need a facility for stay and quarantine. Instructions have been given to Anganwadi workers to trace the people in the villages who are coming back and make lists ready. What will happen with that, no one knows. These are sporadic at the moment, and require more than ‘positive draconian’ measures.

The lockdown announcement yesterday has unleashed the police machinery onto the streets of Patna. Where were these ‘draconian‘ measures to anticipate that migrants will start pouring in? Where was the planning to identify the routes through which migrants were coming back? Why were those routes not checked in on time and made ready with screening facilities, isolation and so they could be sent for testing?

There are even more systemic questions for the long run. Is there a migration database that the government should maintain? The website of the Labour Department has no such information. With census data in public and the IIPS report released in presence of a Minister, why this silence in dealing with migrants coming back to Bihar in the time of Coronavirus?

Featured image credit: Getty Images.

More News On Coronavirus

“I Was Fine Until I Wasn’t”: When A ‘Vacation’ Turned Into Isolation

Coronavirus Update: Govt Sanctions Rs 1.7 Lakh Crore Relief Package

Kashmir Can Survive Lockdown And Curfew, But Can It Survive A Pandemic?

Viruses Don’t Discriminate: Are India’s Covid-19 Measures Disabled-Friendly?

You Keep Hearing About It, But What Does ‘Flatten The Curve’ Actually Mean?

Does India Have Adequate Resources To Respond To Covid-19?

Sign this petition to demand expanding of screening beyond government hospitals, to pre-empt the disease from becoming an epidemic.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, it is our duty to keep ourselves informed, take care of our own health, and wash our hands! Some simple measures that we must follow include social distancing, covering our mouth when coughing and sneezing, washing one's hands regularly, and avoid crowded places, and self-quarantine! The helpline provided by the government is +91-11-23978046. Here are some resources that the WHO and the Health Ministry have created. Remember, prevention, and not panic, will see us through this!
Similar Posts

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below