As people in North Bengal districts said they have witnessed bitter experiences of people coming in from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and going to such countries from here during the lockdown, North Bengal Development Minister Rabindranath Ghosh (photo) held the central government responsible for the present “alarming situation” in Bengal, when thousands of people stranded in different states and neighbouring countries, including Nepal and Bhutan, are returning “with the novel coronavirus.”

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not give us time to prepare before the declaration of the nationwide lockdown. Had the PM declared the lockdown a month before 25 March and sent migrant workers back systemically just after declaring the lockdown, community spreading would have been avoided. But now, the situation is very critical,” Mr Ghosh said.

A Bangladeshi cancer patient, though his parents have settled in Cooch Behar district, came to India officially for his treatment, but died in the Bihar area on his way to Cooch Behar in an ambulance from Mumbai.

“His body was taken to Cooch Behar and the deceased tested positive for Covid-19. The administration took initiatives for the cremation of his body. Both his father and mother, who came in his contact, have also tested positive for Covid-19. They have been kept in isolation at their home in Cooch Behar under the direct supervision of the health officials/ administration,” Mr Ghosh added.

On the other hand, a resident of Matigara in Siliguri, Krishna Barman, his wife Sabitri Barman and their three daughters Mamoni, 15, Prema, 12, and Salini, 5, left for Bangladesh officially on 13 March, but could not return to India despite several requests with Indian officials, it is learnt. Since 28 April, Mr Barman and his family members have been staying in a rented house at Banglabandha in Bangladesh, close to the Indo-Bangladesh border at Fulbari in Jalpaiguri district.

According to official sources, block development officers of Rajganj in Jalpaiguri and Matigara in Siliguri were ready to receive them in the Indian part today, but Krishna Barman could not cross the border officially.

Mr Barman’s father-inlaw Yogendranath Barman, a resident of Matigara, said: “I have written to several Indian officials so that they can come back to India. Though we got information that Bangladesh will allow them to cross the border, Indian immigration officials have not yet received clearance from authorities concerned.”

Speaking to this correspondent, Minister Mr Ghosh said: “The present situation is beyond control due to the huge influx of migrant workers. Despite that, we have decided to requisition one high school in each gram panchayat to accommodate migrant workers for institutional quarantine in North Bengal. In case of space constraints, we will take over a second school in the same gram panchayat. They will be quarantined for at least 10 days. But migrants from five hotspot states like Maharashtra and Gujarat will be quarantined for 14 days separately. A total of 70,000 migrants workers have reached Cooch Behar, and 60,000 to 70,000 workers will be coming shortly. Around 17,000 workers will be coming from Bhutan and Nepal.”

Official sources said hundreds of swab samples collected from different districts of North Bengal are pending. As Mr Ghosh pointed out how the Karnataka government prevented entry from other vulnerable states to save its people, Darjeeling MP Raju Bista today approached Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa there and urged him to arrange for two trains from Bengaluru to NJP to carry back stranded people from North Bengal districts.

Mr Bista also requested him to arrange a 200-bed shelter for boys and girls separately until they are capable to pay their room rent there.

On the other hand, GTA chairman Anit Thapa was present at the NJP to receive over 300 people and migrants workers, who were stranded in Delhi due to the lockdown, and who arrived here today.

Mr Thapa also gave them food packets at the station and brought them to their respective areas.

According to Mr Thapa, local villagers have made arrangements for their quarantine facilities in their respective areas.