By Raza Naqvi
When India went under strict COVID-19 lockdown on 24 March, migrant labourers started moving back to their home states.
In the East Champaran district of Bihar state, 102 quarantine centres were set up for migrant labourers returning from Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Delhi among other places.
For the 1,200 migrant labourers in their care, the district administration for East Champaran launched awareness drives on safe sanitation and hygiene and on the techniques of toilet construction. The initiative is designed to keep people healthy and to develop skillsets that will help them gain employment and improve their home communities.
Gautam Kumar Singh, the District Coordinator of Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission Rural (SBM-R) in East Champaran said, “In quarantine facilities, we have renovated toilets to ensure better sanitation and hygiene facilities for the labourers. All the migrant workers have been given protective gear like masks and hand sanitisers. And we have provided dignity kits that contain new clothes, utensils and other essentials.”
Many migrant labourers staying in the quarantine facilities have previous experience of building toilets. As they are required to remain at quarantine centres for a minimum period of 21 days, the district authorities took the initiative of training the labourers how to construct twin pit toilets and community sanitation facilities.
East Champaran district authority is expected to resume the work of building community toilets as part of the nationwide Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission. Many of the labourers from the quarantine centres will be employed in the effort until they go back to the states where they were working before the pandemic. Similar programmes are happening in other Bihar districts like Darbhanga and Saharsa.
“After the lockdown started, the community of migrant labourers became more vulnerable,” said Mr Gautam. “The training will help these workers to build toilets with improved techniques and will also help them earn money. We will be paying these labourers more than what is specified (Rs 196 or US$2.50) in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The money paid to them will be between Rs 350 (US$4.60) to Rs 450 (US$6) per day.”
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