Patna: Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi has dismissed the charges of forsaking the state’s migrant labourers who got stuck in the national capital amid a three-week nationwide lockdown. The BJP leader squarely blamed Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal for triggering the crisis.
In an interview to ThePrint Thursday, Modi said the Nitish Kumar government was only following the instruction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had asked people to stay “where they are” to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The Bihar deputy CM added that the exodus has slowed down over the last two days, and the government is quarantining several of the returning migrants at the panchayat level. He said that the government is reaching out to those outside the state and offering monetary support of Rs 1,000 to each of them.
Modi also defended his CM and colleague Nitish Kumar for not being in the public eye while handling the coronavirus crisis.
Defending the Bihar government against opposition criticism of mismanagement during last week’s migrant exodus from Delhi, Sushil Kumar Modi said, “When the prime minister announced 21-day lockdown, he said that people should remain where they are. We were following that direction.”
Modi then blamed Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal for confusing the migrants with conflicting statements.
“It was Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal who triggered off the mass exodus of Bihari labourers from Delhi. On one hand, he announced shelters and on the other his men announced that there were buses available for transportation to Bihar,” said Modi.
“CM of UP (Yogi) Adityanath had to announce buses to Bihar border. We initially thought that the exodus would be limited and decided to set up camps at the border. But the exodus turned huge and the people were not willing to stay in camps. Finally we decided to shift the migrant labourers to their native homes. We hired 500 buses to do the transportation,” said Modi.
On the situation in Bihar
The Bihar deputy CM claimed that the exodus has slowed down over the last two days. “Currently, over 25,000 migrant labourers are quarantined in various government schools. Many of the returning labourers are ‘home quarantined’,” he said.
“There is alertness among villagers about the possibility of migrant labourers coming back to Bihar infected by Covid-19. The villagers are ensuring that such persons are isolated. But I do not rule out the possibility of some migrant labourers escaping,” said Modi.
“We had a video conferencing with PM Modi today (2 April). From the discussions it came out that Bihar must be the only state which has quarantined at the panchayat level. Most of the states have quarantine facilities at a more centralised level,” he said.
With a large population of Bihari migrant labourers stuck in other states without food and money, Modi stressed that his government is looking to help them.
“We have reached out to them providing all possible help. My office received 5,000 calls from migrant labourers and there is not a single case where we have not helped them,” he said.
“Our government has announced Rs 1,000 to each migrant labourer outside the state. This money is to be transferred to the account and the beneficiary has just to give his Aaadhar number and bank account.
“On 2 April we launched an app to facilitate the payment. The app cannot be loaded in Bihar. On 2 April itself, over 26,000 migrant labourers had (down)loaded the app. This included 40 from Andaman & Nicobar Islands,” said the deputy CM.
On delayed decisions
The Bihar government has faced charges of inertia and delay in decision-making for 10 days after it closed down education institutes on 13 March.
Sushil Kumar Modi stressed that there has been no delay. “There has been no delay. We were among the first states to close down educational institutes on 13 March. We closed down the Bihar assembly.
“Even before PM Modi announced the lockdown we had announced a lockdown two days earlier (22 March). We took the help of Bihar cadre IAS officers belonging from other states to get in contact with IAS officers posted in their respective states to organise help for the migrant labourers,” he said.
“Calls were made to Tamil Nadu, Haryana and several other states for extending help to Bihari migrants. We were also, like many other states, urging the Centre to stop trains and planes to Bihar.”
On infrastructure and testing
Doctors in Bihar, particularly in medical colleges, have been complaining about the lack of personal protection kits. A video went viral last week of a gynaecologist in Patna expressing her fears about doctors being exposed to Covid-19.
Gynaecologists of PMCH, Patna are not provided with appropriate personal protective equipments & are forced to ask for help through social media. There is no preparation of govt be it hospitals or lockdown, God on earth is at risk & govt watching Ramayana. #MasksBeforeApplause pic.twitter.com/iJg1ubVPra
— Harjit Singh Bhatti (@DrHarjitBhatti) March 30, 2020
“There is a shortage of kits because they have to be imported. There is a global demand for them. There is a shortage of kits even in the US. But the state government has tried hard to secure the necessary kits. The point is that personal protection kits are available only to para medicals and doctors who are in contact with coronavirus patients. Why should they be given to doctors of the gynaecology department?” he asked.
Modi also dismissed that Bihar numbers of Covid-19 patients – 29 as on 3 April – was low because of inadequate testing.
“The testing in Bihar is as (in) other states. Till now around 30,000 tests have been conducted nationwide. A test is not a simple pathological test. In Bihar, we have RMRI (Rajendra Memorial Research Institute of Medical Sciences) and IGIMS (Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences) who carry out the test. Possibly Darbhanga Medical College will start shortly,” he said, without giving figures for the state.
“Bihar is one state which has ensured not just screening but testing of foreign nationals. The numbers of foreign nationals will be available with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he added.
Defending Nitish Kumar
Unlike other CMs like Uddhav Thackeray and Pinarayi Vijayan, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has stayed away from the public eye during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Opposition leader in Bihar Tejashwi Yadav has mocked Nitish Kumar over this.
However, Sushil Kumar Modi justified the approach adopted by Kumar.
“Tejashwi Yadav lives in Delhi from where he gives meaningless statements. Those who say Nitish Kumar has not reached out to the people have not seen TV. After each review meeting, the decisions are conveyed to the media through press notes. CM speaking on the issue after review meetings is being shown in TVs. How else does CM communicate with the people?
“In situations like today the CM is not supposed to move among people. He is supposed to review and monitor the situation. Nitish Kumar is doing that,” added Modi.