The farmers' protests at the Delhi borders have turned into Covid hotspots and are responsible for the spread of the disease in rural areas, the Haryana government has told the Centre. Sources said in detailed reports to the Centre, the state has said over the last month, 129 people died of Covid in villages from where farmers have regularly been visiting Kundli and Tikri borders, where the protest is in its seventh month.
Off the record, officials say the figure could be much higher since many who died have not been tested for Covid though they had symptoms.
During the first wave of Covid last year, only four Covid deaths were reported from these villages -- two deaths in Ambala and one each from Jind and Jhajjar.
The state officials said Covid testing camps have been organised at the Kundli and Tikri borders, there but farmer leaders have asked the farmers not to get tested.
"Repeated efforts of the district administration to start COVID-19 testing at Kundli and Tikri borders have proved futile so far. It is farmers from Rohtak, Sonepat and Jind who died of Covid that resulted from this unreasonable and irrational attitude," Haryana DGP Manoj Yadav told NDTV.
Farmer leaders maintain that they have left the choice to be tested to individuals. "We cannot compel anyone, it is an individual choice as far as testing and vaccination is concerned. We are co-operating and asking people to get vaccinated," said Amolak Singh, state president of PLS Manch.
One of the reports to the Centre said in the April 11 to May 10 period, 786 people died in 65 villages across 13 districts. Of them, 129 were confirmed patients of Covid. Jhajjar accounts for 28 deaths, Hissar for 25, Jind 24 and Sonepat 22 Covid deaths.
Government records show that in Rohtak district, a large number of deaths have been reported from villages like Titoli, Mokhra, Kharkara, Farmana and Kalanaur over the last one month.
"The villagers have admitted that a good number of people infected were those visiting the dharna sites regularly. Even the families of these farmers caught the infection and many people have died," a senior district officer said.
A report of the administration in Sonepat district says farmers from 13 villages have been visiting Kundli and Tikri borders as well.
189 people have died in these villages in same period – 86 of them in just four villages, Sisana, Baroda, Butana and Khanpur Kalan.
"Though of the 189 people, only 22 tested positive, many others who died were not even tested," another officer said. He said according to the villagers, many of these 189 people had fever or other symptoms of Covid.
Officials in the home ministry said they are receiving similar reports from Punjab. Many have died in the families of farmers participating in the dharna -- particularly from the Malwa area.
"To deal with the growing instances of infection in rural areas is becoming a major challenge for the government," a home ministry official said.
"On the one hand, in absence of awareness, the villagers remain inattentive. On the other, despite repeated requests by the administration, farmer leaders are adamant about not getting a test despite symptoms like cough and fever. As a result of this, the infection is spreading," the official added.
On Thursday, Haryana reported 6,818 positive cases and the positivity rate in the state is 11.27 per cent.