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20 men, 1 bucket and a Dettol soap cut in two — life in quarantine for UP migrant labourers

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Children at the main gate of village school that has been converted into an isolation centre | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Children at the main gate of village school that has been converted into an isolation centre | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint


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Sitapur: At the primary school in Pimpri-Shadipur village, barely 100 km from Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow, children mill about the main gates early this morning as they interact with a group of 20 migrant labourers lodged in the premises.

Only, none of them should be anywhere near this area — the school has been converted into a quarantine centre for the men, some of whom have made it all the way from Mumbai, about 1,400 km away, after the 21-day lockdown was imposed on 24 March.

The quarantine centres have been set up in the villages across the state to screen the returning migrant labour for Covid-19 and ensure that they do not transmit it to those in the village. Those arriving here have to spend 14 days in quarantine before they can move to their homes in the villages.

The men inside say they have little choice but to flout the social distancing norms.
Their ordeal of walking home from the metropolises has been compounded by the conditions at the facility, where there is no food, barely any accommodation and little or no sanitation. They have also been left to fend for themselves as there is no staff here.

Sahibaan, 18, who is receiving tea from his 10-year-old sister Kismat, explains the predicament. “Our family is taking precautions but what will we do if food is not provided to us? We cannot die here of hunger,” Sahibaan says. “We have been asked to arrange our own food and accommodation here.”

Sahibaan worked as a mason in Ghaziabad. He says he walked for four days to reach home.

Sahibaan, 18, receiving tea from his 10-year-old sister Kismat | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Sahibaan, 18, receiving tea from his 10-year-old sister Kismat | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Were provided ration but nothing to cook them with

The men say that when the first of them arrived here on 26 March, the village pradhan Omprakash Verma, provided them with ration but asked them to cook their own food by collecting firewood from near the school.

The men allege that when they insisted on gas cylinders to cook the food, the pradhan took away the provisions and told them to arrange their own food.

“On the first day, the pradhan provided us with five kilos of rice, two kilos of potato and 250 ml of mustard oil, all for 20 people. When we asked him to provide a cylinder, he said that there was none,” said Shaukeen, 26, who reached here from Rohtak in Haryana.

“When we opened one of the rooms, however, we saw a couple of cylinders there,” he added. “When we protested, the village pradhan confiscated even that ration and locked it up in that room.”

The other migrant labourers allege that whenever food from their homes is delivered to them, the village pradhan takes photographs of it and uploads it on WhatsApp for the authorities.

“Whenever all of us eat our food the village pradhan takes photos of it and uploads it on his WhatsApp for the authorities to show he has provided it for us. This was after we called them to complain about the irregularities at this isolation centre,” said Rohit Maurya, 31, who worked as a welder in Ghaziabad.

“When we protested against this, the pradhan threatened to book us for defying isolation norms,” Maurya said, adding that police also allegedly threaten them if they complain about the lack of food and other arrangements.

Pradhan Omprakash Verma, however, told ThePrint that the labourers can’t cook themselves, adding that no one in the village is ready to cook for them as most are from backward castes or are Muslims.

“The migrant labourers who have been kept in isolation can’t cook as they have relied on hotels when they were outside the village. Also, no one in the village is ready to cook for them,” Verma said.

The migrant labourers at the quarantine centre in Pimpri-Shadipur village | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
The migrant labourers at the quarantine centre in Pimpri-Shadipur village | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

‘Premises not sanitised even once’

The facility does not even adhere to basic sanitary norms. All 20 men have to make do with just one toilet even though there are two more toilets in the village school premises. Both were closed when ThePrint visited.

“The premises were not sanitised even once. We are being made to sleep on mattresses that we brought from our homes,” said Maurya, the welder who walked home from Ghaziabad. “There are three more rooms but they have been locked by the pradhan. If they would have been used, we could have slept and lived here at an appropriate distance by following the social distancing rules.”

The men sleep on mattresses that they have brought from home | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
The men sleep on mattresses that they have brought from home | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

The men also say that they have to contend with just one bucket and a “small Dettol soap” that has been cut into two.

“In the initial days, when authorities came to inspect the village, the pradhan provided us with a bucket and a Dettol soap. Since then, there has been nothing else,” said Neeraj, 28, a daily wage labourer who worked as a mason at Jhajjar in Haryana.

He added that when they asked the village pradhan to open the other two toilets they were told to defecate outside if they wish to.

“The day before yesterday, there was a huge rush for the toilet. There were six people in the queue,” said Rohit, 27, a rickshaw-puller in Ghaziabad. “I along with two boys went to defecate outside in the open.”

The quarantine centre has only one functioning toilet | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
The quarantine centre has only one functioning toilet | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Pradhan Verma, however, blamed it on the panchayat staff. “I had asked the staff to ensure that all facilities are provided to the labourers but they are careless. I will ask them again to ensure all facilities are being provided to the migrant labour in the village school.”

The labourers also alleged that preferential treatment was being meted out to the pradhan’s relatives.

“There are two family members of the village pradhan who arrived from Delhi but they are living in their homes with their family members while we are being kept here,” said Aslam, 24, a daily wage labourer who worked in Gaur City, Noida Extension. “It is the poor who are locked up while the family members of pradhan and even his relatives live comfortably in the village.”

When ThePrint contacted the Sitapur district magistrate Akhilesh Tiwari on the arrangements at the Pimpri-Shadipur isolation centre, he blamed the poor facilities on the panchayat authorities.

“We are making every possible arrangement but there are irregularities and carelessness at the level of the gram pradhan and gram panchayat.”

Tiwari, however, added that he would take cognisance of the matter and send the respective block development officer to fix the irregularities in the village school isolation centre.


Also read: Rs 3,000 crore and 4 lakh jobs, the price Agra tourism is paying for coronavirus


No income, dwindling savings

For most of the men, the 14-day isolation period has left them with no income and is eating away at their savings. The men say they had walked home in the hope of working on the farms and earning an income during the lockdown period.

It is the peak of the sugarcane and wheat harvesting season in the region and agricultural labourers are allowed to work in farm-related activities as long as they maintain social distancing at the work.

Sunil, 28, who waited tables for a catering company at Ashok Nagar in Delhi, said, “We came home walking in the hope of maintaining an income and food but while we are being held in this isolation centre, our families are suffering.

“The sugarcane and wheat harvest is at its peak and will continue only for a week. After that, there will be no employment prospects here. How will we eat and what will we earn?”


Also read: Trial assessing anti-clotting drug to algorithm guiding PPE use — latest on Covid-19 research


 

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’

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doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay


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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”


Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot


‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.


Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


 

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