The entire expenditure was taken up by the parents and the students, said Sikkim State Task Force Credit: Representational image

Gangtok: Amid criticism over Kota students being favoured over people from other states to be brought back home, State Task Force clarified that the Sikkim government had absolutely no hand in their commute to the state.

“The state government had no role at all in evacuating these students, it was carried out by the administration of the institute in collaboration with the parents and students of the State. The entire expenditure was taken up by the parents and the students,” said state nodal officer Rinzing Chewang Bhutia on Wednesday.

Bhutia added, “The institute got in touch with the Rajasthan government and got the passes and permits issued for their travel through Rajasthan and other states falling in the route. The facilitation by the state government began only after they started from Kota on their own, we merely informed the nodal officers of UP, Bihar and West Bengal to facilitate their entry, nothing more and nothing less.”

Stressing on patience and weightage on the appropriate government actions to follow, Bhutia said, “The students stranded in other far-flung states need to remain patient and wait for the appropriate action of the government. Evacuating people in buses from far-flung places is a big exercise, the perils of travelling in a bus amid the hot weather conditions. So, I urge everyone to have faith in the government as it is devoted to solve people’s problem with a concrete solution soon.”

The evacuation currently is being focused only for Siliguri with West Bengal officials being the only state authorities approving of the evacuation. A criterion is also in place for travel in trains and flights with trains housing close to 1,200 passengers. However, no state has been close to register to the range of those many commuters.

Meanwhile, long distance travel from far-off cities which takes days to commute in buses will have to wait until flight and train services resume. “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, such initiatives will be curtailed for now as it is an expensive affair to bring them from far-flung states”, stated the nodal officer.

On quarantine facility for the students, the state nodal officer asserted that everyone coming from red zones will be compulsorily quarantined in government facility. The students that have been brought from Kota have been kept under quarantine in SMIT complex and Himalayan Pharmacy Institute in Majhitar. “SMIT, being a huge complex, the women that commuted from Kota have been kept in the Girls Hostel at the institute complex as quarantine with boys being in the pharmacy institute. The spaces have room for 250-odd people for quarantine. HRD is facilitating the students in the quarantine. Health workers are being facilitated by the district aministration in government guest houses, while those in need of paid quarantine, have been kept in hotel here in Sichey and hostel premises of SRM University at 5th Mile, Tadong,” stated the state nodal officer.

These students from Kota are also being closely monitored by a team of doctors, security personnel and district administration. They are not being allowed to come in contact with anybody including their parents. They are under strict quarantine like every other commuter who came on Tuesday from Siliguri. They will not be allowed home quarantine, informed Bhutia.

Concerns were also ripe with people facilitating their own return from Siliguri to the states, many of whom had the urgency with death in the family or commuting with patients. “There is no mechanism that stops us from people commuting from Siliguri but once they are intervened at the borders, they must undergo the compulsory quarantine that stands as the law in the current scenario. We will not stop but you cannot blame the government. If parents assert on many such returns in the future, than they must take up the matter either with their concerned MLA or the district administration to seek such evacuation or coming home on their own, the only criteria here are that the commuter must take care of their transportation on their own. There is no point in government bearing the cost for forceful evacuation,” Bhutia said.

The State Task Force at this juncture are receiving queries from foreign nations on the evacuation following the Union ministry’s consideration for such facilitation in some countries. To this, the state agriculture secretary said, “There is no help that can be generated until the current host state or the country facilitates on the same. For states it is the respective State Nodal Officer that has to facilitate, elsewhere for foreign nations, embassies plays a key role. We are even getting queries from Kathmandu, from Thursday onwards many considerations could be welcomed, but registration in the Embassies is also important.”

Even if patients are being brought through private vehicles apart from quarantine, the district administration is devoted in ceasing the vehicle for the next 14 days. “The vehicles may not carry the virus, it may also be safer to commute by private vehicles but the task force is devoted to facilitating those without vehicles to come back to the state. There are few cases of people coming on their own, but the concern with the Task Force being prior information, as help for their facilitation can be worked out by the Task Force. We have an estimation to keep and that plays an important part,” he said.

Tuesday being the first day of such evacuation, the State Task Force had devoted extra attention and facilitation took some time. “Screening process went on very smoothly, self-declaration forms had some hiccups. SNT facilitated on the same with the forms being delivered on the buses itself. But commuting and filling the form was an issue”.

Unfortunately, another concern that came to light yesterday was many people had cancelled on the very last moment, for personal decision. “We are filling up the buses, going to the pick-up points, but with people not being there, the resource and time is being wasted. We do have an estimation of the people coming and that tends to get deferred when the final report comes in”, stated the State Nodal Officer.

Home Department Under Secretary Sunny Kharel asserted on Task Force devoting to humanizing the process, wherein the standing in queues along with pick up hassles are being worked upon to be made at the ease of commuters. “The concern with commuters also delves on the part where they have been away from the comfort of their homes for over 40 days and they need to follow with 14 more days of quarantine. Even the self-declaration is being carried out only after they reach Melli and Rangpo to avoid psychological pressure on the commuters. The room are of not their choices, they are forced to stand for hours with a lot of procedures, which are being looked upon to be eased”.

Each of the helpline numbers are receiving 60-65 calls per day, but it is not as smooth as butter with networks being some of the glaring issues.

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