Guwahati: The Sonitpur district administration’s move to set up a zonal screening venue at Tezpur University in Napaam has been met with strong resentment from the people of the area, including students and scholars.
The zonal screening venue was set up at Assam’s Sonitpur district to cater to people belonging to Udalguri, Sonitpur, Biswanath, Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts of Assam who are returning from outside the state amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
“One of the major concerns is the presence of 379 families, which alone accounts to over 1,500 people residing in the residential area within the campus. This is besides the students who are already in various hostels,” said Jyotispal Deka, president of Tezpur University Students Council. The university has just one common entry and exit point, which may increase the chances of virus infection, he added.
The district administration under the directions of the state health department has set up a zonal screening venue at the community hall and the field, which are right in the middle of the campus with various hostels surrounding it. The ring road surrounding the field will be used as a parking lot for the vehicles. This road is right in front of six hostels and two other departments.
A Kendriya Vidyalaya, which is situated inside the campus, will act as an institutional quarantine facility to accommodate around 250 persons. This is located right next to the hostel that has nearly 31 foreign students residing there. Also, the school sits right beside the only health care centre of the entire university.
Moreover, the ring road is used to bring in food from the university guest house to all the hostels. Due to the lockdown, most of the cooks went to their native places, so the guest house is used to make the food which is then transported to all the hostels.
Highly-placed sources in the university administration said that make-shift toilet facilities have been constructed in the field which have become no less than an open defecation area. Due to the seasonal rains, it is common for the field to get water-logged. “This will result in the spilling of waste into the entire field,” he said, requesting anonymity. Also due to the lockdown, the university had to postpone the exams of over 3,000 students, including the final-year students. “As per the UGC guidelines, we were supposed to conduct the examinations by July after at least a month of offline classes which will be done batch-wise. However, due to this, we are now in a precarious position of balancing the student’s future and adhering to the guidelines of the district,” he said.
Tirtharaj Gohain, a former president of the students’ council, said: “There have been many cases of people not following quarantine and running away only to spread infection via contacts. If one such case occurs in the university, it will cause a high-risk situation.”
When Team EastMojo reached out to Sonitpur DC Manavendra Pratap Singh over the matter, he said: “The reason as to why we want to use TU is because it already has a readily available facility which can be easily transformed as a testing centre with ample parking facilities. Also, KV has good infrastructure to host a quarantine facility,” he said.
Due to the fact that it has just one entry and exit point, it becomes easy for officials to monitor the quarantined patients, leaving less pressure on the already stretched security forces, he added.
As for the residents, there are residences near every quarantine facility, he said. Darrang College is right in the middle of a bustling town, he said, adding: “Moreover, this is a time of national crisis and we have been asked to make 2,000 beds available, which we will anyway, and if we want, we can requisition the entire university under the DMA. Nobody can deny us that. Also, we are ready to host a minimum of 50,000 people inside the testing centres as well,” said Singh.
“Having an illogical and false sense of fear will not work for anyone, as we too have a responsibility. For the state, as Sontipur has one of the medical college hospitals, we are not allowing a single CVOID-19 positive case to stay in the university,” Singh added.
Terming the university residents as “living in heaven” and the public workers “facing the hell’s mouth” every day, Singh said that the university body should not have any fear of contamination as long as they do not loiter around just for the sake of it inside the campus.
Meanwhile, Samaresh Barman, PRO of Tezpur University, said that the university has already been doing its part amidst the crisis. “Along with providing aid to the rural areas surrounding the university, we have been preparing PPEs day and night with our 3D printers. We even gave our equipment from the MBBT department to TMCH so that it can help in sample testing,” he added.
As counts of COVID-19-infected people continue to rise and people belonging to Udalguri, Sonitpur, Biswanath, Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts will be returning from outside the state and will enter the university campus for testing (started from May 8), tensions seem likely to rise. The university is now walking on thin ice with regards to handling the academic future of many students and the national health crisis.