Lucknow: There seems to be no end to the pain and distress of migrant workers who trudged hundreds of kilometres to reach their hometowns in Uttar Pradesh, after losing their jobs due to pan-India lockdown.

On Sunday, when scores of labourers, along with their families, reached Bareilly on foot from the National Capital Region, they were asked to squat at the district border and sprayed with chemical solutions meant for disinfecting buses and compounds. The fire brigade vehicles were pressed into service to sanitise the exhausted labourers with a sodium hypo-chloride solution.

These families had heaved a sigh of relief after they reached the district border, not realising that their ordeal had just begun. “Traffic police personnel asked them to squat on roads and keep their eyes shut.

The migrants did so, fearing arrest, if they did not abide. Many kept their eyes shut, but a few were curious what lay in store for them. Then, without any prior briefing, the fire brigade staff started showering them in the chemical solution from all sides,” said residents.

Children started howling when the chemicals filtered into their eyes. Even adults reported a burning sensation. “This was a brazen attempt to dehumanise the poor workers for no fault of theirs,” a doctor posted in Lucknow said.

After social media outrage, district magistrate of Bareilly Nitish Kumar claimed, “The chemical was meant to disinfect buses and walls. But civic workers in their “over-zealousness” sprayed it on humans. An inquiry has been ordered and several workers have been hospitalised.”

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati dubbed the incident as a “joke on the poor”. Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, IIT-BHU professor and Mahant of Sankatmochan Temple, Varanasi, criticised the treatment meted out to the migrants.

“This lot of migrants are mostly from the hinterland and are not carriers of corona. The individuals who have arrived from abroad and hiding from authorities are the real menace.” District magistrates in UP have been asked to take care of the food, lodging and corona screening of the stranded natives.

Most officials were struggling to meet the demand till Monday due to lack of resources. Several government schools and offices across UP have been converted into temporary shelters, where migrants have been put up for 14-day quarantine. The government has also taken over a sports complex to house the migrants. The complex is home to India’s only Formula-1 track.

Meanwhile, the Lucknow administration has checked into two five-star hotels to keep doctors and health staff working round the clock in the corona ward for mandatory 14-day quarantine. CM Yogi himself travelled to Noida and Delhi to visit the corona control room, which has been set up at UP Bhavan.

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