Srinagar: In clear violation of the set guidelines, thousands of brick kiln labourers arriving in Kashmir do not undergo any institutional quarantine as they are transported directly to brick kilns where they begin working right away.
As reported by The Kashmir Monitor on Sunday, as many as 11,000 brick kiln labourers have arrived in Kashmir since July 14 with 60 to 70 buses carrying around 2,500 workers to the valley each day.
All these labourers are being brought back in hoards by the brick kiln owners in Kashmir who arrange their transport and stay in poorly facilitated shacks right near the brick kilns.
As per the guidelines issued by the Jammu and Kashmir government, all the passengers coming to J&K by train, air or road are supposed to remain under institutional quarantine for 14 days after being tested for coronavirus.
However, on the contrary, the labourers are made to work right away while arranging their stay in the brick kiln areas itself.
“There is a lot of space available at the brick kilns and all the labourers are placed in isolation for three days or till their reports are revealed,” said Zahoor Ahmad, president brick kiln association, Kashmir.
The arrival of labourers began July 14, which means that most of them should have still been in quarantine.
However, as per Zahoor, these labourers “have resumed work a few days ago.”
“We don’t allow labourers to move out of the brick kilns and they are not allowed to interact with the local people nor are local people allowed to enter the brick kilns. The owner of the brick kiln provides them with food, water, masks, and sanitizers. They have no need to move out. The owners also make arrangements for their stay,” Zahoor said.
He claimed that “all the guidelines are followed strictly”.
Zahoor added that there are around 350 brick kilns in Kashmir, in which around 60,000 labourers work.
“So far, work has resumed in brick kilns located in Budgam, Anantnag, Kulgam, and Pulwama districts,” he added.
According to him, the government is taking care of COVID-19 sampling and testing of these labourers, however, the travel expenses are taken care of by the brick kiln owners.
Interestingly, the brick kiln owners have been only verbally informed about the number of positive cases without any official report confirming the same.
“So far, we know that six have tested positive, but we haven’t seen any official report,” a brick kiln owner said.
Mohammad Yousuf, a brick kiln owner from B K Pora Chattergam, Budgam, told The Kashmir Monitor that around 150 labourers work at this brick kiln which is spread on 150 kanals of land.
“They (labourers) were directly brought here after being sampled for COVID-19 at Lower Munda (Anantnag). We maintained social distancing and the work started from July 16,” he said.
He claimed that no one in his brick kiln has tested positive and they have given labourers masks and sanitizers.
Interestingly, Yousuf hadn’t checked the test results of even one of them and doesn’t know whether or not they have received their results.
“They don’t show any symptoms. We have constructed small quarters for their stay and they are living there and following all SOPs,” Yousuf claimed.
Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, president Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, asked the government to come clean over the issue.
“We urge the government to come clean on this subject and not allow a single person in Kashmir without being tested. Every person coming to Kashmir should be kept in 14 days of administrative quarantine so that others’ lives are not put in danger. There should be no compromise on this,” he said.
Ashiq added that demands like availability of ventilators and updating emergency health care infrastructure were more important than resuming work on brick kilns.
Director Labour Commission, Abdul Rashid War told The Kashmir Monitor that their mandate is only to facilitate the movement of the labourers and maintain their record.
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Pandurang K Pole did not respond to the repeated calls and messages from The Kashmir Monitor.
On Sunday, Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag, K K Sidha told The Kashmir Monitor that sampling of brick kiln labourers coming from other states to Kashmir started from July 14.
“We have collected 10,697 samples for COVID-19 tests so far. Six of them have tested positive till July 16. The results of the samples taken since July 17 are awaited,” he said adding: “Every day we receive a list of 60-70 buses and collect more than 2500 samples.”