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  4. Opinion | My appeal to states: Spare the common people while you are busy in confrontation with Centre

Opinion | My appeal to states: Spare the common people while you are busy in confrontation with Centre

I feel Sadananda Gowda should not have taken that flight if he had no intention to go for quarantine. If he went on a regular flight, he should have followed rules which were applicable to other flyers. There cannot be a different set of rules and norms for VVIPs and common people. 

Rajat Sharma Written by: Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive
New Delhi Published on: May 26, 2020 10:53 IST
Aaj Ki Baat May 25 episode
Image Source : INDIA TV

Aaj Ki Baat May 25 episode

As the number of fresh COVID-19 cases in India rose by 6,087 on Monday to a total of over 1.42 lakh, domestic air services resumed in India after a 62-day shutdown giving the aviation industry a much-needed respite. 

However, Day One proved to be a disappointment for thousands of travellers. Nearly half of the flights had to be cancelled at the last minute due to refusal by several state governments to allow air travel. Only 532 domestic flights operated on Monday carrying 39,231 flyers. This was only one-fifth of about 2,500 daily flights during the pre-lockdown period.

The last-minute cancellation of flights led to chaos at almost all major airports. Late in the night, the Civil Aviation Minister announced that Andhra Pradesh has agreed to allow air services from today (Tuesday) and West Bengal will allow incoming flights from May 28. 

West Bengal government is busy with problems due to cyclone devastation. Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray was initially unwilling to allow flights because Mumbai has become a hotspot. After Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri spoke to him, he agreed to allow 25 flights to land and an equal number of flights to take off from Mumbai, leading to last-minute cancellations. 

Adding to the confusion, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar, Punjab, Assam and Andhra Pradesh governments issued their own set of guidelines for air passengers arriving in their states. Some states made institutional quarantine mandatory for flyers.

Air passengers who landed in Bengaluru from Delhi were outraged when they saw Union Minister D V Sadananda Gowda moving out of the airport in his car, without going for quarantine. Gowda claimed he had gone to Bengaluru in connection with his work and quarantine was not required for him. He even claimed that he could have gone in a special flight, but opted to go in a regular domestic flight because he did not want to misuse his position. 

I feel Sadananda Gowda should not have taken that flight if he had no intention to go for quarantine. If he went on a regular flight, he should have followed rules which were applicable to other flyers. There cannot be a different set of rules and norms for VVIPs and common people. 

If as a Union Minister, Gowda had any important official work, he could have taken a special flight or a chartered flight. We expect our ministers to lead by example while following rules and norms meant for all. 

On the bigger issue about harassment, flyers had to face, it clearly showed a lack of coordination between the Civil Aviation Ministry and the state governments. 

The Civil Aviation Minister had announced on Thursday that domestic air traffic would resume from May 25. He had four days' time and had claimed that all arrangements were in place. A new set of protocols was prepared for flyers and airlines, tickets were booked, flights were scheduled, and hours before the flights were to take off, they were cancelled. Because of a lack of communication with the flyers, the situation at the airports became chaotic. 

Similarly, there was disappointment in store for nearly 3,000 Bengal-bound migrants at Bandra Terminus in Mumbai, when their special trains were cancelled. The reason was evident from a series of tweets by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal. He tweeted that it was past midnight, and Maharashtra government is yet to send Railways the details and passenger lists for 125 trains scheduled for Monday. "I have ordered my officials to wait and keep preparations ready." 

The minister then tweeted: "I request Maharashtra govt to please send us the number of trains, their destinations and passenger lists. We are waiting and will work the whole night to keep the trains ready. Please forward us the passenger lists within the next one hour."

The Railway Minister finally tweeted: "Where is the list of 125 trains from Maharashtra? As of 2 am, received only 46 trains of which five are to West Bengal and Odisha which cannot operate due to cyclone Amphan."

Shiv Sena leaders, in reply, took a jibe at the Railway Minister pointing out how a UP-bound special train landed up in Odisha. 

Now, look at what happened to the poor workers at Bandra Terminus. They wanted to leave for Howrah, had registration forms and health certificates ready, but were told at the last minute that no train will go to West Bengal because the state government had refused to allow trains due to cyclone devastation there.  

Many of the workers broke into tears at the station, because they had paid up their rent and had packed all their belongings to return home. Many of the workers expressed their outrage at West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee for taking this arbitrary decision.

Piyush Goyal is right when he says that trains cannot operate without detailed data and proper planning. Railways must know the destinations of the migrant workers in advance and at which stations the trains will stop. Since these migrants will have to be kept in quarantine in the states, the recipient government must make advance arrangements for buses to ferry them to quarantine centers. 

West Bengal government may be busy in relief and rehabilitation after the cyclone, but one can ask, what was the state government doing from May 1 to 15?  Why didn't the state government send requisitions for special trains then? Mamata Banerjee is a sensitive politician and I hope she will take care of her people returning to West Bengal, whether by air or by train.

Indian Railways have so far run 3,060 Shramik Special trains ferrying more than 40 lakh migrant workers. Out of these, 15,41,794 workers have returned to Bihar in 1,029 trains. 

On Monday, another 1,96,350 workers returned to Bihar in 119 trains, but the state government is facing bus transport problems. It does not have enough buses to ferry these migrants to the quarantine centers. 

Thousands of migrants and their relatives had to wait for hours under the scorching sun for buses to arrive at Patna Junction and Danapur station. Social distancing norms went for a toss and the migrants scrambled to board the buses, with nearly four persons sitting on a single seat.

Clearly, no precautions are being taken to avoid the spread of Coronavirus among migrant workers. These visuals are scary. It appears as if the virus is omnipresent inside the buses. No doubt, the number of migrants is huge, but in neighbouring UP, chief minister Yogi Adityanath's government efficiently managed the return of 24 lakh workers by sending them to quarantine centers. Other states can learn from him.

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