By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 26 Aug: At a time when just a few days are left for the Union Government to come up with its guidelines on Unlock 4.0, the Uttarakhand Government is dithering even on complying with the guidelines issued for Unlock 3.0. The government is not permitting entry of more than 1,500 passenger vehicles per day into the state. The requirement to obtain e-passes before entry also remains in force at a time when most states, in compliance with the Centre’s guidelines, have already done away with the requirement of e-pass, registration and institutional quarantine.
It is very strange in Uttarakhand that, on the one hand, the state has permitted at home treatment for Covid-19 patients if they are asymptomatic, as also treatment in private hospitals but, on the other, it is still requiring institutional quarantine for seven days for those visiting the state from other states, followed by another seven days of home quarantine.
Only senior citizens over 65 years of age and pregnant women are not required to undergo institutional quarantine. Not only this, a daily quota of 1,500 vehicles has also been fixed for entry into the state. This is when the Centre has already objected to some states imposing travel and entry restrictions.
In this respect, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla had on 22 August sent a letter to all the chief secretaries in the country asking them to do away with such restrictions and had clearly stated that imposing such restrictions was in violation of the guidelines issued by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The MHA has recommended no restriction on inter-state and intra-state movement of goods and persons.
While the MHA is no more insisting on downloading of the Arogya Setu App, the state administration continues to force people to do so as a pre-condition to permitting entry into Uttarakhand and travel within the state. It is continuing to insist on registration and e-pass when Bhalla’s letter to the Chief Secretaries has objected to this requirement.
While these restrictions are applicable to the common man, ministers and union ministers, chief justices, judges, etc., coming from outside for official reasons have been exempted by Uttarakhand from undergoing any kind of quarantine. Some other officials and experts coming on official tours are also exempted, but the tourists from abroad and across the country are still required to undergo quarantine. Those coming to attend marriages in the family or last rites of family members are exempted to the extent of only attending these functions.
The irony is that, despite these restrictions in place, Covid-19 cases are on rise in the state and for the past ten days more than 400 new cases are being detected daily. This raises questions on how far the restrictions in force in Uttarakhand have been able to contain spread of Corona. The latest data suggests that few new cases have travel history. It also indicates that Corona spread in the state is mainly due to non-compliance of social distancing norms and due to not wearing masks properly. Sources allege that, even with the restrictions, entry in violation of rules is being permitted by the Police and the administration at the borders and this is one of the reasons why fresh cases of Corona are more prevalent in Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar districts adjoining Uttar Pradesh.
Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had, on Monday, indicated that the state would mull the new guidelines and consider raising the limit for entry of vehicles to 2,000 per day. It indicates that the government does not seem to be taking the letter of the Union Home Secretary seriously at a time when new guidelines for Unlock 4.0 are about to be issued by the Centre to be effective from 1 September, under which even Metros are also likely to be permitted to begin operations and more train services likely to resume. Travel restrictions in Uttarakhand might also affect those students and their families who are preparing for NEET and/or JEE tests for medical or engineering courses as public transport is not operating fully in the state.
Experts believe that travel restrictions in or to Uttarakhand should go in compliance with the MHA guidelines, as also the institutional quarantine requirements. There should be no need to apply for e-pass, but those entering the borders or bus stations or railway stations or the airport should be screened and their details obtained, as extra restrictions have proven to be useless in preventing the spread of Corona in the state.