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Homecoming Exercise

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The exercise has now begun nationwide to bring home stranded migrant workers and others to their home states. It cannot be said whether the lockdown exercise has managed to achieve its objective – that of preventing community spread of the corona virus. This is simply because what the alternative could have been remains in the realm of speculation. It can be safely asserted, however, that the government at that time simply had no other choice if it wished to perform its duty responsibly. There is great pressure now to not just ease the lockdown but also help stranded persons – which, basically is already in various stages of implementation.

Going by the experience, thus far, it must be noted that the repatriation exercise, too, is fraught with danger. Reports come in daily about migrant labourers, who made their own way home, of testing positive to the virus. In Uttarakhand, for example, two workers who arrived in Ramnagar brought the virus with them. Previously untouched UP districts have reported similar cases among returnees. These persons were the ones who were caught in the dragnet of local administrations or reported by gram pradhans and thus put into quarantine and tested. What of those who managed to sneak past the system and are probably causing havoc right now? It is in this context, therefore, that the movement of probably millions across the nation needs to be viewed.

It can only be hoped that the arrangements on the ground in the home states are stringent and unyielding. Thus far, the record in this regard has been mixed – with some states ensuring strict enforcement of quarantine, while others have been downright populist in their approach. As in the case of Uttarakhand, which has prepared a fleet of buses to bring its residents home, the first lot are those who are already under observation in other states and medically vetted. Eventually, however, it will be a test of local administrations and the awareness among the general public, if the matter is to be successfully resolved.

The government is also reportedly contemplating running trains to deal with the large numbers, although enforcing discipline would become a major challenge. Would the trains be sealed, thereby ensuring nobody gets off anywhere except at the designated places? Is it safe to seal trains in this way? Or, will large contingents of security personnel travel with the passengers to keep them in line? Along with the resumption of commercial activities, this would obviously be the primary concern of the government at the present time.