After detection of a Covid-19 patient for the first time in a tea garden in the Terai region in Darjeeling district, tea gardens have been alerted about maintaining social distance and following medical protocols among workers, even as a huge number of migrant workers continue to return in droves.

A woman tea worker in the Naxalbari Block yesterday tested positive for Covid-19, while it is being said that she had no travel history. State home secretary Alapan Bandyopadhaya today said that the huge influx of migrant workers, even from Maharashtra, is a big problem now as they might spread Covid-19 infection.

“Lakhs of migrant workers have come to Bengal. Several workers have come by road. Stranded people, even from Bhutan and Nepal, are also coming. Of the 225 trains, 19 have arrived so far, and 206 will be coming phase-wise. Some states are busy in sending migrants hurriedly. Pressure should be optimal, well managed to the extent practicable,” Mr Bandyopadhaya said.

However, Darjeeling MP Raju Bista, today sent an email to the Chairman of the Railway Board about the delay of several North Bengal and Northeast-bound trains and urged him to take steps as several returnees fell ill owing to lack of food and water over the past three days.

“I hope that the West Bengal government is prepared to test, quarantine and isolate patients in and around the places of de-boarding of these passengers. Their performance so far in containing and dealing with Covid19 crisis fills my heart with grave concerns, and so far the state has failed to address the issues concerning migrants coming back home,” Mr Bista said.

Speaking to a TV Channel, a senior doctor Kunal Sarkar, said: “We are shocked as the entire effort to maintain lockdown over nine weeks has finally not yielded satisfactory results because of the huge influx of migrant workers from different states, which are badly hit by Covid 19.”

Darjeeling district magistrate S Poonambalam, on the issue migrant workers coming privately by hiring private buses, said that people returning through official channels like Shramik Special trains and buses arranged by the government are being screened and action being taken as per protocols. “Now, people have started to come by private arrangements. Our check posts are functioning 24 hours. Mostly, we are getting information about private travel, and health screening and other formalities are being done at check posts most of the time,” he said.

Notably, tea garden managements in Darjeeling district have been asked to send a list of returnees to police stations, BDO, BMOH and CMOH and other administrative authorities, including the labour department.

The Darjeeling district administration had constituted a Task Force comprising some government departments, including labour, to keep monitoring tea gardens, given the influx of migrant workers. Labour department officials have said they have visited almost all tea gardens in the plains and the Hills.

According to the deputy labour commissioner, S Majhi, who conducted a survey, 602 migrant workers returned to the Siliguri tea areas, 464 in Kurseong and 1030 in Darjeeling tea gardens as on 18 April 2020 from different states, including Gujarat, Delhi, Maharashtra and others. However, a total of 5358 workers have not yet returned and of them, 984 workers have been listed from the Siliguri tea belt, 1541 from Kurseong division and 2833 from Darjeeling tea gardens.

Officials of the labour department also noticed that a certain percentage of workers had gone to Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand and other countries.

Asked to comment on the precautionary measures, secretary of the Tea Association of India, Terai region, Sumit Ghosh, said: “The administration under the Darjeeling district magistrate is monitoring with its machineries since 24 March. Garden managements have been sending daily reports to authorities concerned.”

“We have informed the police of some unruly migrant workers, who had been roaming about violating medical protocols. We have informed the Kharibari police station too, as migrants violated home quarantine norms in Thanjhora Tea Estate,” Mr Ghosh disclosed.