Workers leaving for India ask government for free PCR testsThe Uttarakhand state government has made PCR test mandatory for migrant workers crossing into the state from Nepal through various border points.
On Sunday, Bir Bahadur Dhami, a resident of Jogbudha in Dadeldhura, reached the Gadda Chauki border point in Kanchanpur to cross into India in search of a job.
But Dhami was turned away since he could not furnish his PCR test report. He then made his way towards Trinagar Gauriphanta border point in Kailali district, where a negative PCR test report is not mandatory to enter India.
The Uttarakhand state government in India has made negative PCR reports mandatory for those crossing into India through various border points. However, the Uttar Pradesh government has been allowing Nepalis to enter the state through the Gauriphanta border point without a PCR test report.
The relaxation of rules at the Gauriphanta border point has prompted many Nepali migrant workers from across Sudurpaschim Province to make their way to India through Gauriphanta.
Migrant workers who would usually use other border points—Gadda Chauki, Darchula and Julaghat—have been lining up at Gauriphanta to enter India, security personnel at the Gauriphanta border say.
According to the Border Police Post in Gauriphanta, over 2,000 migrant workers have been entering India in search of jobs from Gauriphanta border on a daily basis.
Before the pandemic, migrant workers like Dhami would swim across the Mahakali river to enter India to save time and money.
“It takes us three days to travel from Dadeldhura to Kanchanpur and again from Kanchanpur to Dhangadhi. My last trip home was costly,” said Dhami. “But since the pandemic hit both the countries, security has been tightened and swimming across the Mahakali is prohibited.”
Dil Bahadur Bam, a local man from Purchaudi in Baitadi, tried to enter India from Jhulaghat border point but was turned away for a lack of a PCR test report. He says many migrant workers like him cannot spare extra money to have themselves tested for Covid-19.
The government has set a ceiling price of Rs 1,000 per PCR test in government hospitals and laboratories, while it has allowed private labs to charge up to Rs 2,000.
“We haven’t had a source of income for almost a year now and we can’t afford the test. The least our government can do is offer free testing for migrant workers going to India,” he said. “The Indian security personnel asked us for a PCR test report at Jhulaghat border but I don’t have one so I came to Gauriphanta. For now, as far as I know, only the Uttarakhand government has made PCR tests mandatory to enter India. But soon all other Indian states might start asking for one.”
He says the migrant workers who had returned home during the pandemic are in a rush to return to India before their host country and their employers make vaccination against coronavirus compulsory for all workers.
The India-bound workers have urged the government authorities in Nepal to prioritise them for Covid-19 vaccination.
“We have to go to India and elsewhere to earn a livelihood for our family. The government can neither provide us jobs here nor can it make our lives easier by providing us with vaccines,” said Surat Bahadur Bam, who was on his way to India along with his friend Dil Bahadur Bam.
“At this rate, many Nepali migrant workers will soon not have a job to go back to and will have to stay back in Nepal unemployed,” said Surat Bahadur.
To earn a living in Nepal is not an option for many migrant workers since the pandemic has led to many job cuts within the country, says Laxman Saud of Rithapata in Achham district.
“We have to go to India to avoid starvation. Staying in Nepal is a luxury we can’t afford,” said Saud. “Now, even crossing into India has become a hassle for those of us who can’t afford a PCR test.”
Dirgha BK, a resident of Nakakedar in Doti district, reached Gauriphanta border point with his wife and two children on Sunday to make his way to Gujarat in India.
“Some people question us about our decision to go to India in the midst of the pandemic. But what choice do we have?” asked BK. “We are also scared of getting infected but now the choice is between dying of hunger and taking a chance with Covid-19.”
BK had returned home a few months ago when India was battling the second wave of the pandemic.
“When the second wave hit India, we thought it would be safer for us to return to Nepal rather than staying in Gujarat. We were hoping for the virus to go away soon but that hasn’t happened,” said BK. “After months of waiting, we have decided to leave for Gujarat despite the risk.”
A very limited number of people have undergone testing for Covid-19 in Sudurpaschim Province since the country was hit by the pandemic in March last year. According to the Provincial Health Directorate, only 250,000 out of the total 2,800,000 people across the nine districts of Sudurpaschim Province have undergone Covid-19 tests as of now. It is estimated that more than a million Nepalis from the province go to various places in India for work annually.