In January this year, the first case of COVID-19 disease was confirmed in India, when a student from china travelled back to his home state, Kerala. In March, when the COVID-19 positive cases reach close to five hundred, the Govt. of India on 24 March announced the nationwide lockdown for a period of 21 days, to control the spread of deadly disease, by asking citizens to observe social distancing. Subsequently, after the first phase of lockdown was about to reach its end, the centre on 14th  April extended lockdown further  for two weeks with a conditional relaxation promised after April 20 for the regions where the spread of virus had been contained.

However it was only after few days of lockdown, the media started capturing the distress of stranded migrant workers, students etc. Soon T.V. screens flooded with some heart wrenching stories of stranded persons particularly the migrant workers. Thus the month long lockdown resulted in affliction of miseries of millions of workers, students, tourists leaving them no time to plan for such an emergency.

On 29th April, the Ministry of Home affairs issued detailed guidelines for the States/UTs to allow the inter-state movement of stranded migrant workers, students, tourists. In guidelines, it was mentioned first that sanitized buses should be used for transportation of stranded persons. Soon the order was amended and special trains were also permitted for transportation. Subsequently buses and special trains for evacuation of stranded persons were started by many States/UTs.

Likewise, resident members of J&K right from the inception of lockdown from different parts of India sought help of evacuation from their home authorities because of their countless problems. Initially, the govt. of J&K issued helpline numbers to facilitate the residents of UT. Through these helpline numbers, though authorities responded some resident members in different parts of the country. But scores of residents particularly the students complained that these numbers remained defunct on most of the times. Thus hardly these numbers provide any considerable help to the distress ordeals of majority of stranded persons. While at the same, many States/UTs in coordination with other State/UTs started process of evacuation at least for some group of students. Therefore, on 17th April, the Uttar Pradesh government sent more than two hundred buses at a time to Rajasthan (Kota) to bring thousands of students back home. Following the suit, soon other States like Madya Pradesh and Chattisgarh authorities decided the same. On contrary, it was only after 27th April that J&K govt. decided to bring back its first batch of about more than three hundred students from Kota, Rajasthan!

As said earlier, the Ministry of Home affairs issued guidelines on 29th April to let Migrant workers, students and pilgrims stranded get back home. Like other regional governments, the authorities J&K released SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for stranded persons. They designate Nodal officers and initiated protocols for receiving and sending the migrant workers, students and tourists. As soon as these guidelines surfaced on media, the stranded persons across the country once again dialled phone numbers of their designated officers for their early evacuation. However on most of the times, these helpline numbers proved hoax for most of the stranded Kashmiris. They complained either to media persons or personally tweeted that they were not getting any response or reply to their queries raised regarding their evacuation to valley. Because these numbers either remained switched off or no one picked up their calls. Even then, when Kashmiris realised that these numbers hardly pay any remedy to their queries, they posted scores of videos and tagged various authorities on many social media platforms. But to their surprise, they were not heard even there!

Further when govt. of J&K started online web link for stranded students to register their details on portal. Thousands of students from different parts of country register their names in hope of quick evacuation. However till this date, it was only few thousands who make their way to home. Moreover, one of the biggest faults that surfaced regarding web links is that govt. openly disclosed the information of students with theirs details. Thus, students particularly the female ones, complained that their numbers being open were misused as many unknown numbers dialled their mobile phones!

Thus, during the first week of May, the authorities came with SOP which stated that those students who have registered themselves online from four states i.e. Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi and M.P. along with workers will be bring back to the valley in first phase from 7th may to 9th May. However soon officials released press release where they stated that the process will continue in these States/UTs for a week to bring them back! In fact as per their data only thirty thousand person have entered into the valley after the MHA order. Even this figure if taken into account would be much less compared to other states. While at the same time other States provided not only buses but also opt at early for Special trains permitted by Centre for transportation of stranded persons. However, the authorities of J&K initially rely only on buses for a considerable period of time and opted only for specials trains during late hours of process.

Thus to cut the story short, considering the fact that the evacuation process if taken into account is complex due to the prevailing Pandemic situation and needs considerable attention at each stage. But then tough times call for tough measures and this is where the credibility of government comes in forefront.

Basharat Saleem Parray is a research scholar at Centre of Advanced study, Dept. of History, Aligarh Muslim University Email:                                                         (basharatparray77@gmail.com)

 


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