Monday, 30th October 2017

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Home small, isolated on treetop

Villagers hit on idea of quarantining the 7 on treetops for a fortnight

By Snehamoy Chakraborty in Purulia
  • Published 29.03.20, 3:16 AM
  • Updated 29.03.20, 3:16 AM
  • 2 mins read
One of the migrant labourers in Purulia on the tree house. Picture by Purnabh Mahato

A Purulia village took quarantine awareness to a new high, fixing cots atop mango trees to isolate seven migrant labourers who had returned from Chennai on March 22.

The villagers of Bhangidih in Balarampur block, 300km from Calcutta, decided on their treetop stay as the seven youths’ homes were too crowded for safe quarantine, which the coronavirus protocol mandates for anyone coming from another state.

As the news got out, the district administration hurriedly arranged accommodation for the seven in a government building on Saturday and quarantined them there.

The villagers said that as soon as they had learnt that the seven, working as construction labourers in Chennai, would be returning on March 22, they had begun worrying how to make their quarantine a success.

“Most of us have one or two rooms in our mud houses where five to six family members share space,” one of the seven youths explained to The Telegraph over the phone on Saturday. “Home quarantine was not feasible for us.”

The villagers then hit on the idea of quarantining the seven on treetops for a fortnight. So they got seven charpoys installed on treetops with bamboos and ropes.

The youths were provided with mosquito nets, which they put up by tying their ends to the branches. Electric lights were installed on nearby trees with the help of cables and bamboo poles.

The young men climbed down only for toilet, to eat the meals their families left for them under the trees on sal leaves, and to make tea on a stove the villagers had provided.

“The idea was not new. Such treetop accommodation is built during the harvesting season as watchtowers for the protection of standing crops from marauding elephants and other animals,” said Bishnu Pramanik, a villager.

“The arrangements had been made before the seven reached the village.”

Once the youths arrived, they climbed onto the trees with their bags.

“Initially, three cots had been installed on one tree and four on another. But it was uncomfortable, so we ourselves shifted some of the cots to other trees, spreading them out a bit,” one of the seven told this newspaper.

“We had returned home after six months and it was difficult to live on the trees away from our families. But we didn’t mind doing it for the good of the villagers.”

On Saturday, though, the district authorities asked the block development officer to bring all the seven down and provide them with alternative accommodation.

Officials decided to shift the seven to the local ICDS centre — the only government building in the small and remote village of 60 families — which had been closed as part of the lockdown.

The plan ran into a hurdle as the centre lacked toilets. A team of plumbers and masons was immediately summoned to build a makeshift toilet before the seven were brought down from the trees and moved to the facility on Saturday evening.

“After we came to know about the development (treetop quarantine), all the seven were shifted to the ICDS facility on Saturday evening,” Purulia district magistrate Rahul Majumdar said.

Before arriving home, the seven youths had visited the Balarampur block hospital and had been advised 14 days’ home quarantine.

Majumdar, asked why the administration had not monitored the seven before Saturday — home quarantine entails regular visits by health teams — avoided a direct reply. “A team of local health workers had earlier approached them but they didn’t want to leave the treetop accommodation,” he said.

“After I received the information, I immediately ordered them to be shifted to the ICDS centre.”