NE states, led by Sikkim, seeking special train for evacuation
Gangtok: The Sikkim government has informed that it is in consultation with other Northeastern states to bring the stranded people from Northeast India in special trains with stopovers at New Jalpaiguri (NJP), Guwahati and other railway stations convenient for each state in the region.
Currently, Railways is asking for 90% occupancy in each train for long-distance transport of the stranded people from one region to another region. Given the low numbers, it is not possible for each Northeastern state (with possible exception of Assam) to ensure a 90% occupancy (100% is 1,200 passengers) on every train from every the Centre. This is a major problem being faced by Sikkim and other smaller Northeastern states.
“We are in touch with all the other Northeastern states. All the chief ministers of the Northeastern states are saying that a special train should be arranged for the stranded people. One station should be at NJP for Sikkim so that we can bring our people from there to the state,” said chief minister PS Golay.
The chief minister pointed out that people of Northeastern states are spread in different parts of the country. “One train for each group cannot be done. We have sent our proposal to the Railways that a special train is needed for the Northeastern people so that 90% occupancy target is also met,” he said.
Will bring home our people in phase-wise manner
CM Golay informed that a total of 5,715 Sikkimese stranded in other parts of the nation have registered with the Sikkim government till Wednesday stating that they want to return home. They include students (1,427), patients (201), medical workers (227) and others (3,859).
Golay said the Sikkim government will bring the stranded Sikkimese who have done registration in a phase wise manner. “Do not worry, wherever you are, we will bring you back in a phase-wise manner,” he said appealing the stranded people to have patience.
It is not advisable to bring all our people at one go, he added.
No new taxes
Golay, to a media question, said the Sikkim government will not impose any new tax but will rather take austerity measures to save government money.
“I had a meeting with the finance department. We will not impose any new taxes but take up austerity measures to reduce government expenditure. For example, only four vehicles for each department are allowed during the lockdown period. Hence, fuel for other vehicles of the departments is not being used for the month of April and May. We will try to save government expenditure at all possible levels but not thinking of any new taxes at the moment because it will eventually affect the common man. We will not hike Excise taxes also. Yes, we will try to explore ways to see whether we can put additional or increase the existing taxes for big companies,” said the chief minister.
Golay informed that a total of Rs 12.26 crore has been collected till date in the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. He informed that Rs 4.85 crore has been spent so far on various activities like financial relief for the stranded students and patients, emergency expenses of the police and SDMs at border areas, quarantine facilities, etc.
The chief minister said that the Sikkim government is fully prepared to handle any COVID-19 positive case. He informed that the state government has established a dedicated COVID-19 centre at the 8th and 9th floors of the STNM hospital with 250 beds. “We also have an isolation centre with 40 beds to handle the confirmed cases, 57 ventilators are ready along with 20 ICU beds,” he said.
Golay informed that five Truenat testing machines have been installed and a real-time PCR testing machine would be set up by next week. Finishing touches are going on at the viral testing lab which will be ready for operation by May 15, he said.
On taxi relaxation
The chief minister maintained that the relaxation given to local taxis was to extend some relief to the drivers who have no earnings since lockdown started from March 25.
Taxis are allowed to operate since May 5 on odd-even system within a district. “Our gurujis (drivers) are facing severe hardships and we implemented the odd-even system for taxis within a district. This ensures some relief to our taxi drivers during this period, they need some relief urgently,” said Golay.
At the same time, private vehicles are not allowed to move starting May 6.
The chief minister observed that private vehicle owners are well-off in comparison with the taxi drivers who, besides zero income since lockdown, also need to pay higher taxes. “They are facing hardships to sustain their livelihood and also have to pay house rent and for education of their children. Considering the problems of our gurujis, we have allowed the taxis to operate and cancelled the movement of private vehicles,” he said.