At least nine migrant labourers, who peddled, hitchhiked and walked from as far as Punjab to reach home during the ongoing COVID-19 induced lockdown, have been booked and are facing arrest for complaining of no facilities at a quarantine centre in Bihar's Madhepura.
The migrants were booked under Section 188 of the IPC on May 20 for allegedly changing their quarantine centre at Ramnagar Mahesh village under Madhepura's Kumarkhand block "without consent of the local authorities."
Manoj Mukhiya, one of the labourers, said: "After screening on May 17, the officials at Kumarkhand block allotted the Middle School in Ramnagar Mahesh, which has been designated as a quarantine centre, to three of us. In the next two days, six more people joined us. There were no facilities at the centre -- not even provisions for water and electricity."
Anguished over the wretched conditions of the quarantine centre, the migrants shot a video and shared it on social media platforms on May 19, a move which irked the local authorities.
The Kumarkhand Block Development Officer (BDO) reached the centre the same evening with local police officials and took them to another centre. An FIR was lodged against them the next day for posting the video online and "staying at the school, which is not designated as a quarantine centre."
However, the documents accessed by ANI show the school was designated as a quarantine facility for the migrants and at least three of those booked were allotted the aforesaid centre.
On March 23, the Kumarkhand BDO had designated the Middle School Ramnagar as a quarantine centre by an official order, a copy of which is with ANI.
Six others, who have been booked, said the officials told them that they can stay at any quarantine centre as per their convenience.
"At Kumarkhand, I requested the officials to drop me at the quarantine centre in Rauta but they said there was no vehicle and I had to go on my own. Since Rauta is around 7 km from Kumarkhand, I asked them whether I can go to Ramnagar, which is nearer to my home. They said I can stay at any centre," said Chotu Kumar, who came from Lucknow.
"After all, I would be availing the facilities provided by the government at any centre. So, it does not matter where I actually stay," he added. Kumar also alleged that there was no cooperation from the officials on duty.
"When I asked the officials to strike down the Raut quarantine centre and write the name of Ramnagar on the slip, they refused to touch it and instead asked me to make the correction," he said.
Gulshan Kumar, who cycled over 1,200 km from Gurugram to Madhepura, also echoed similar sentiments.
"I reached Ramnagar on the night of May 18 and stayed at the Middle School with others. The next day, I went to Kumarkhand along with two others to get ourselves registered where we were allotted Rauta quarantine centre. We asked them if we can stay at the Ramnagar quarantine centre since it is closer to my village and our belongings were kept there, they allowed me. But the next day, we were taken to Kumarganj and an FIR was lodged."
"I am an illiterate person and do not know what to do. I simply followed what was told by officials," he added.
Another labourer also cried foul stating that "the FIR has been registered not because we were in different quarantine centres but because we shot the video to highlight the poor condition of the centre," he said.
Ramtonia Devi, the village head of Ramnagar, confirmed to have received an official communication about the school being designated as a quarantine centre and dubbed the police action as an act of "injustice" against the poor migrants.
Rajeev Ranjan Singh, SHO of Shri Nagar Police Station, told ANI that the official who had allotted the quarantine centres didn't clearly mention whether they were to go to the Middle School in Ramnagar or Ramnagar panchayat quarantine centre, which is actually located in Shri Nagar.
"This led to confusion among the workers," he added.
The SHO further said the FIR has been registered on the orders of the DM, BDO, and CO.
"Although some of them were allotted the Ramnagar Middle School, they should have informed the police and Mukhiya (village head) if there were lack of facilities. Instead, they shot a video and posted it on social media where it went viral," he added.
Singh said the migrant labourers will be taken under arrest after completing the 14-day mandatory quarantine period.
Madhepura District Magistrate (DM) Navdeep Shukla said that an inquiry will be initiated to ascertain whether there was any mistake in booking the workers.
"We will conduct an inquiry into the authenticity of the documents -- quarantine allotment slips and order designating the school as quarantine centre," he told ANI over the phone.
In a related case, a person has also been booked under Sections 188, 269, 270 and 253 of the IPC for "instigating migrant workers to stage a hunger strike" over lack of facilities at a quarantine centre in Kanti area of Muzaffarpur. (ANI)