GUWAHATI: A rights body on Monday claimed that at least 251 migrant workers had died while trying to return home during the lockdown.
In its report “COVID-19 Lockdown: The impact of Singapore Syndrome in India’s dormitories”, the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) claimed the lockdown had failed to contain community transmission of infections as reflected in 564 confirmed cases with 10 deaths on March 24 to 1,82,142 confirmed cases with 5,164 deaths as on May 31.
“… During the lockdown from March 24 to May 31, at least 251 migrant workers including 170 persons in other transports and 81 persons in Shramik trains had died while trying to return home to escape instant joblessness, homelessness and hunger in the metropolis. Migrants died in road accidents, forest fire, due to exhaustion, illness, negligence in relief camps etc while the Shramik trains have turned into living hell-holes without water, food and constantly running late without fans during scorching Indian summer,” the RRAG said in the report.
Explaining the “Singapore Syndrome”, RRAG director Suhas Chakma said it is all about faster spread of COVID-19 cases during lockdown in situations where maintaining social distancing is impossible like the cramped dormitories housing the foreign migrant workers in Singapore.
“By March 5, 2020, Singapore was hailed as being the model country in tackling COVID-19 but by May 27, it not only became the country with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South East Asia despite the lockdown from April 7 to June 1 but out of the total 32,417 COVID-19 cases in the country, a whopping 30,623 or 94.5% were dormitory cases,” Chakma said.
He said places like Dharavi slum in Mumbai were all but big dormitories far worse than the dormitories of Singapore. Infections of 15% of the total foreign workers or about 31,263 out of the total 2 lakh foreign workers of Singapore by May 27 were indicative of the spread of the virus in Indian dormitories, he said.
“Lockdown without addressing immediate needs of the migrants and the poor on real time basis has caused spread of COVID-19 and many of these migrants returning home are carrying the disease with 2,433 returnee migrants in Bihar testing COVID positive as of May 30 and the states in the Northeast, which are like Islands, are also witnessing spurt of cases from 61 cases on May 1 to 1,689 positive cases on May 31,” Chakma said.
He added: “India’s lockdown has caused the largest internal displacement ever recorded in history and it exposed the migrants to colossal humanitarian crisis not only because of failure…to ensure the right to life and liberty, the right to freedom of movement to return home with safety and dignity as guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1) and 21 of the Constitution and enforce Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005”.
The rights body suggested to the Central government to work out a national strategy with full and meaningful participation of all states and Union Territories and the opposition political parties by keeping aside electoral politics and include epidemiologists in decision-making and ensure respect for human rights while tackling the pandemic.