“Is it a rule that you go eat at home and then come and stay in the school? Can’t the sarkar do anything about it?” asks Ajay (named changed) referring to the government. Quarantined in a primary school in Jugdihawa, Uttar Pradesh, upon his return from Delhi, he alleges that a lack of food and facilities is forcing quarantined persons to flout the rules and venture out every day.

To check the spread of COVID-19 in rural areas, primary schools in UP villages are reportedly being converted into quarantine centres to house migrant workers returning to their villages during the lockdown, as per a prevention protocol. Ajay is one of nine people currently quarantined in one such primary school-turned-quarantine facility.

“There is nothing, there are no facilities for us,” Ajay told The Citizen. “Pradhan ji gave us food one time, after that he hasn’t come to check on us. He is saying, you all go eat at home and sleep here. Just think about it, if we go home, eat and then come back, what is the point of us staying here?” he asked.

According to a report in The Hindu, government estimates place the number of migrants who have returned to Uttar Pradesh using the bus services started by CM Yogi Adityanath for this purpose at around 2–2.5 lakhs.

On March 29 the state government ordered a mandatory quarantine for approximately one lakh individuals returning to the state after the lockdown. It is reportedly working with village heads (pradhans) and ASHA workers to trace and quarantine all those who have returned from the cities, where the virus originated.

The administration seems to be taking strict action against all those attempting to escape the quarantine facilities. It was recently reported that 26 persons escaped from a quarantine facility in Faridipur, Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh. In Rae Bareli too, an FIR was reportedly lodged against nine people for escaping an isolation centre in a primary school.

In Jugdihawa, however, those in isolation are allegedly being sent home to get food to eat, in violation of the precautionary isolation meant to be followed for a period of 14 days.

Ajay, who has a job in Delhi making envelopes, returned to his village late night on March 28 and was transported to the quarantine centre that evening. “I decided to come back to my village because everyone around me was running home. I was left alone,” he said. He does not know whether he will receive his salary now that he has returned home.

He recalls having slept outside his house when he reached due to a lack of space. “That night I didn’t even eat at home. In the morning, my family gave me water from afar,” Ajay said. He was further warned by his family members to strictly avoid visiting the local bazaar.

He remained outside his house till evening, when the village pradhan and ASHA workers told all those who had arrived from Delhi to go to the primary school. “I thought if everyone is going, even I will go. But when we reached the school we realised there were no arrangements. No charpai, no bed, nothing,” he told The Citizen.

Beds were soon brought in. “But only with a bed we won’t be able to survive the night. We needed to eat something. So they said go eat at home today. From tomorrow, we will give you food.”

Ajay, along with his fellow members in quarantine, went home to eat, believing they would be given daily meals from the next day. “The family gave us food outside our homes,” he stated. “The thing is, it’s best to keep a distance from our family because whether I live or not, at least the lives of my family members need to remain safe,” he added.

He says those quarantined at the school were given food the next morning, but in the evening they were again told to go home and eat.

Mohan (name changed) who is currently quarantined in the primary school in Nibi Dohni with four other individuals told The Citizen that their families were bringing food to the quarantine centre every day.

“Our house is nearby, so they are saying it is better if you get food from home,” he said. While the men were checked on April 1, they were not stamped, Mohan told The Citizen.

Meanwhile in Jugdihawa, the men are reportedly having to step out of the primary school even to use the restroom. “There is a toilet but it is not worth entering. It is very dirty. We go outside, what do we do? Majboori hai. Do we enter and get other diseases?” asked Ajay.

Ramlal (name changed) of Phardehni village told The Citizen that both his sons were taken into quarantine a week after their return from Delhi. They left from Delhi on March 28. Despite being quarantined in a local primary school, one of them continues to come home to bathe and use the restroom. However, they reportedly receive food twice a day at the school, including tea and biscuits.

At the Jugdihawa Primary School, Ajay further said that the quarantined persons were stamped after one checkup (the stamp has since washed off). No one had arrived to conduct a checkup at the school, he alleged.

“The Pradhan came two days ago, after that he hasn’t come to even check if we are alive or dead. We were told higher authorities would be visiting. Nobody has arrived,” Ajay stated.

The Pradhan of Jugadihawa however told The Citizen that no one had been stepping out of the school and food was being provided twice a day. Speaking about the preparations that have been made at the quarantine centre, he stated, “We have given them charpais. To a few, we have also given beds and sheets to cover themselves with. We have provided soap and there are arrangements for tea, water and food. I have told them to maintain a distance from others, keep their soaps separate, to keep washing their hands and feet and bathe regularly to maintain hygiene.”

Regarding food supply, he stated, “We haven’t received anything, nor have we received a message regarding it. We were told of an order that if the Pradhan does not have all the preparations then food rations should be given from the zila aapda vibhag (district emergency fund). But nothing like that has happened.”

He further added that food was being supplied by the aid of their personal income. “So everyone is spending from their own income, what to do? Right now there are nine people at the school. If there were more it would be difficult… They are from my village itself, which means they are from my home itself. My village is my family,” the Pradhan said.

He further added, “I have no complaint with anyone whether they give or don’t give. If the government gives or not, that doesn’t concern me…The government is doing good work... It is helping the government if I don’t ask for the supply.”

Have families been bringing food to those quarantined in nearby villages? “In nearby 6-10 villages, all Pradhans have made preparations, they keep going and checking as well. In case, if someone has made something special at home and brings it to the school, then they leave the thaali outside. The quarantined come from inside and pick it up, wash it and leave it outside… Nobody is meeting anyone. All precautions are being taken,” he further stated.

He confirmed that no one had arrived to conduct checkups on those quarantined. “Plus, the health of those quarantined is fine right now,” he said. “We go check on them regularly to see if anyone has fever, cough or any other type of health problem.”

Meanwhile Ajay told The Citizen, “So we go eat at home, and then come sleep here. We eat outside the house, keeping a distance from our family. They gave us food once at the school, in the morning.” Ajay reiterated his concern—Do frequent visits home really count as quarantine?