Representational image Credit: Representational image

Gangtok: A total of 79 stranded people were brought to Sikkim from Siliguri in six SNT buses on Tuesday. The evacuated people include 33 students, 27 health workers and 19 students who had come from an institute in Kota, Rajasthan.

Of the six buses, five are headed for North Sikkim and East Sikkim districts while one bus took the stranded people to West Sikkim and South Sikkim districts. All vehicles reached Rangpo and Melli check posts from where they will be put under compulsory government quarantine facility in their respective districts.

Apart from the frontline workers at the border check posts, the State Task Force (STF) led by agriculture secretary and state nodal officer Rinzing Chewang Bhutia led the charge at Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority (SSDMA) Control Room in Tashiling Secretariat on Tuesday. The team included SNT officials led by secretary Raju Basnet, home department and coordination under secretary Sunny Kharel along with NIC and IT official Prem Ashish Pradhan.

While the devoted task force team takes charge of addressing the helpline service where queries for inward journey to the state is carried out, the IT department maintains the database of registered individuals. Officials from SNT finalise on the buses, pick points and also cancellation of travel to the state.

“We started the online registration from May 2 evening through which features the various criterions and details needed are very simple. Once registered they will receive one confirmation message with every online registration has a compulsion of having Aarogya Setu App without which the registration fails. But there were issues with those without a smart phone, so for the same a helpline number has been set up which is being answered for registration by the task force deputed here at SSDMA Control Room,” stated Rinzing Chewang Bhutia.

The evacuation currently is being focused only for Siliguri currently and no other states with the West Bengal officials approving of the evacuation. “Until and unless means of transportation such as trains and flights are opened, those from other states cannot be brought back to the home state. The students from Kota which include 19 from a institute preparing for entrances for engineering and medical were left out before the lockdown, they were almost 80 in number with majority coming home before the lockdown but those that were left out, were ferried with the help from the institute and Gangtok Mayor Shakti Singh Chaudhary who was in close contact with the institute,” said the state nodal officer.

A criterion is also in place for travel in trains and flights housing close to 1,200 passengers. “As per the criteria, if they are ferrying students and stranded people to the home state, they must have 90% occupancy and should not include any stoppage in between states and railway stations until they reach their destination. But the problem that we are facing is no state has a number that ranges close to 1,200 commuters. Karnataka stands at the highest with 750 registration so far, Delhi has seen 350 registrations so far while Siliguri which does not require commuting on train has collectively 1,560 odd people including those from Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and as far as Jai Gaon who have registered so far, priority will be given to Siliguri first for evacuation,” stated Bhutia.

Bus journey from far-off places like Vellore in Tamil Nadu which houses many patients which requires several days of commute seems like a hurdle, until flights and trains become functional. “Those stranded in far flung places are being counselled through the helpline service that they need not panic and stay put until a concrete understanding is initiated between the two states for their commute. With Kota being an exception as it was paid by the students as well as by the institute but such initiative will be curtailed for now as it is an expensive affair to bring them from far-flung states,” said the nodal officer.

SNT secretary Raju Basnet highlighted how the SNT premises in Siliguri has been the main functioning centre for the state currently with over 25 buses at their disposal. “We had set a target that today there would be 100-odd people who would be brought to the state, the number nearing 80 currently is a good margin of people with 6 buses devoted for them. A single bus with a capacity of 32-33 people will include only 15-16 people commuting on a single bus to maintain social distancing. We have avoided conductors to ply on the same bus and only the drivers are to take charge of the situation. The Control Room here with SNT officials are identifying the passengers, confirming their travel a night prior and finalizing their pick up points. However, we have been getting last minute cancellation adding to our woes and even with a few being left behind owing to the strict schedule to be maintained but they will also be ferried the next day,” said Basnet asserting that they are targeting 150 people on Wednesday with more buses to ply.

The initial plan of collecting people from SNT premises in Matigara has been put on hold for the time being to avoid rush and travelling inside Siliguri which is still a red zone amidst the COVID 19 crisis. “Matigara will be used later when there will be rush of people coming from other States as well. Currently pick up is being done from the same cluster of people and location. There are 10-12 pick-up points reaching as far as Shiv Mandir and Pani Tanki on either sides of Siliguri,” added Basnet.

The task force officials asserted on phase-wise evacuation to give a breather to the quarantine facilities as well which is a compulsion for all those coming back to the state. With over 5,500 registrations so far, the attempt at evacuation seems a tedious task, one which requires a lot of time, hence the officials claim “Avoid travelling unless necessary”.

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