GU Professors, Staff Made In-charge of Quarantine Centre Without Prior Notice
Gauhati University staff given charge of quarantine centre sans PPE kits; made to work at unconventional hours
The Assam government had requisitioned a number of facilities to be developed as quarantine centres to accommodate the lakhs of returnees to the state.
Amongst the lodging facilities requisitioned in Guwahati are six boys’ hostels of the Gauhati University.
The requisition order was issued on 25th May and boarders were asked to collect their belongings before 27th May.
“It is strongly advised that they collect their necessary items at the earliest without waiting for the last date as the Disaster Management Authority (Kamrup Metro) may take possession of the hostels at any moment,” read the notice.
If this was not enough to distress the boarders and the management, Kamrup Metropolitan District Administration issued another order on 28th May last with a list of six officers-in-charge and six supporting staff against each of the six hostels that were converted into quarantine centres.
The officers-in-charge are assistant professors from different departments of the university. Reportedly, they have been chosen from the Zoology, Biotechnology and Physics departments. The six supporting staff members are originally office assistants under the Registrar.
Sources in the university informed that a Whatsapp group was formed on the night of 30th May and all the selected people were added to the group. The order, having their names as well as contact details, was uploaded in the list. After this, they got individual calls asking them to be prepared for service by the next day.
“I got a call at about 11:00 PM on 30th May and was asked to be prepared for the next day. The authorities said that about 300 people would be arriving and we are to be responsible for proper documentation of all,” said one of the university staff members under the condition of anonymity.
“I thought it was a wrong number as I was never informed of any such possible responsibility that would be assigned to me,” he added.
The members were asked to report to the Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) the next morning. On 31st May, they were briefed about the responsibilities by the ADC and the first batch of people reportedly arrived by afternoon. The staff members alleged that even the university management was ignorant about the development when reached out for details by the concerned members.
Sources have further alleged that the administration had not provided them with any of the necessary protective gears, be it masks, PPE kits or even sanitizers.
One of the staff members told G Plus, “We are all making do with whatever we had with us. Yesterday, the management provided us with a package containing gloves, masks and sanitizers.”
It has been alleged that there is no fixed timing of work and there is no concept of shift duty being followed. “We are expected to work whenever we get a call saying that a new batch has arrived or whenever there is a problem. Most of us do not stay in the campus. We were not allocated any quarters earlier. I am living in a rented flat in Beltola and given the curfew hours and limited transportation, it has become difficult for me to commute. Although I go back at night, I am expected to always be just a phone call away,” said a staff who has been working without rest for hours.
Furthermore, these appointed members are to take care of their own food and other necessities during their hours of stay at the university campus. “There is no food or anything available as the whole campus is closed due to the lockdown. I have not informed my house owner that I am working in the quarantine centre. God forbid, if I happen to contract the disease by any chance, what will happen to the people around me?” he added.
The staff members who are appointed to hold charge of the quarantine centres were not at all associated with the hostels prior to this. The means of their appointment remains a mystery even to them. “We still do not know how the authorities chose us or got our numbers. Even the university management claims to be unaware,” said one.
It should be noted that some of the appointed staff members have family members who are below the age of 12 years or are senior citizens.
“I am not complaining about the work. We are getting a noble chance to serve the people in such times of crisis. But we have families too. At least we could have been informed earlier and the necessary arrangements made for our safety,” added a supporting staff.
Allegedly, there are not enough security personnel deployed in the six quarantine centres of Gauhati University and there is every possibility of the people under quarantine to roam about. People residing in the campus claimed that as the centres are originally boys’ hostels, they do not have proper high fencing and gates as in the girls’ hostels. As such, it is easier for the people to jump the fence without being noticed.
Speaking to G Plus regarding the same, one of the officers-in-charge said, “I don’t have to be physically present at the quarantine centres but the supporting staff member is expected to make visits and inspect the centres.”
The supporting staff instead said, “I have to go receive the people when they arrive and also keep check on the workings of the containment centres. Although I don’t go near the people, but I do come in contact with the security personnel guarding the quarantine centres.”
Replying to these allegations, Chinmoy Nath, ADC Kamrup (M), speaking to G Plus said, “The staff members are only required to keep records of the number of people, check on the necessities, inspect the timely supply of food to the people. They don’t have to go inside the centres. So it’s just managerial work.”
It should be noted that on 1st June, 33 persons quarantined at the RCC 4 boys’ hostel of Gauhati University were tested positive of COVID-19. These persons were among the 98 air travellers from Kuwait to Guwahati. Reportedly, the university management has distributed packages of protective gear amongst the members of the staff on that very day. However, there is still no supply of PPE kits for them.
Akhil Ranjan Dutta, President of Gauhati University Teachers’ Association, speaking exclusively to G Plus said, “In an Executive Committee Meeting held on 2nd June, the issue has been raised. We have expressed concern that the district administration had not consulted the administration before recruiting the staff members. We are cooperating with the government but the administration should have consulted us.The university is an autonomous institution and even under epidemic situations the district administration should have kept the autonomy and sanctity of the institution in mind. We would like the university administration to see that the same does not happen again.”
“The teachers involved have expressed concern regarding their own security and we have resolved to apprise the university management of the same and ensure their safety. Also, the university management will be asked to ensure that the teachers are not forced to work beyond hours. The duty hours need to be looked into,” Dutta added.
The GU Teachers’ Association would be raising these issues with the University authority - the head of the autonomous body - and not with the district administration directly.