By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 30 Apr: The Union Home Ministry has allowed the states to bring back their residents stranded in other states due to the lockdown. However, bringing back people from outside is going to prove to be a major challenge for Uttarakhand. It is estimated that more than one lakh people belonging to Uttarakhand are presently stranded in other states and want to return home. The permission in this respect was given by the Union Government barely three days ago and, already, around 34,000 people have applied to the state government for their return. Similarly, more than 3,000 persons belonging to other states are also estimated to be stranded in Uttarakhand due to the Corona pandemic lockdown. A large number of them are tourists or pilgrims.
The government has stated that those wanting to return home would have to apply online on the portal-
The Uttarakhand Government today started an exercise in this regard. It may be recalled that the Union Home Ministry has issued some guidelines in this regard. It is pertinent to note that, presently, only road travel has been allowed by the Centre. Given the fact that Uttarakhand natives are stranded in even far off states like Telangana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, bringing them back by road will prove to be a cumbersome exercise. As per the guidelines issued by the Home Department, every state would have to nominate a nodal officer for this exercise.
Orders issued today by the Chief Secretary, Utpal Kumar Singh, the Superintendent of Police (Traffic), Dehradun, and General Manager (Administration), Uttarakhand Transport Corporation, are authorised to issue vehicle passes for Garhwal Division, and Superintendent of Police (Traffic), Haldwani, and City Magistrate, Haldwani, for Kumaon Division. They were directed to take care of this responsibility in coordination with Secretary, Transport, Shailesh Bagoli, and Inspector General of Police (State Disaster Response Team) Sanjay Gunjyal, have been nominated as nodal officers of Uttarakhand by the state government.
Sources claimed that initially only 500 buses would be engaged for bringing back people of Uttarakhand stranded in other states, although the Uttarakhand Transport Corporation has a fleet of more than 2,000 buses. It is also worth noting that, due to the lockdown, public transport services are not functional presently so it is difficult to imagine why only 500 buses would be engaged for this work. Sources also state that fitness of a significant number of buses in the fleet is doubtful particularly in view of the strenuous requirement of long journeys in bringing people back from far off states. Not only this because of the Corona pandemic, the buses would have to operate under special SOP protocols, also, keeping in mind the social distancing requirements. Sources added that no more than 25 passengers would be allowed to travel in a single bus. Given the fact that already 34,000 persons have applied for return, it is not difficult to imagine the extent of the challenge the state is set to face in bringing the stranded people back and how much time it would take to actually bring them back since the union government has only allowed road travel for the time being.
During an informal interaction with the media, Chief Secretary Utpal Kumar Singh stated that all those returning from other states under Standard Operating Procedures would have to undergo medical testing before travelling and once again undergo a medical test after reaching in the state. Only those found fit would be allowed to return. Those who would manage to clear the screening and testing would also have to compulsorily undergo home quarantine for 14 days after returning. Those found with any doubtful symptoms after their arrival in the state would have to go through institutional quarantine.
The nodal officers of Uttarakhand would have to coordinate with the nodal officers of other states to ensure safe and trouble free return of the people of the state. Sources estimate that more than one lakh people would apply for withdrawal over the next few days. In such a situation, the question arises as to how this challenge would be met by the government by operating just five hundred buses.