My year's savings spent on one Vande Bharat flight: NRI's ordeal goes viral
It was a little over a year ago that Siva (name changed) went from Kerala to Canada with his family of three. He wanted to earn some quick money and clear a few debts. Siva and his wife found jobs in Montreal and had been able to save a little money when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit. They, like thousands of expatriates, tried to come back home to Kerala. That’s when their ordeal began.
After a lot of trouble, the family did reach their home in Kalady on June 12 and is in quarantine now. But before that, they had to go through a lot of trouble, and Siva explained the hassle in a Facebook post titled ‘Vande Bharat Mission and Corona Tourism’. The post’s been shared over a thousand times at the time of publishing this story.
“All that I saved in one year in Canada had to be spent on this trip,” Siva tells TNM.
In the post he writes how he had in May booked tickets worth Rs 42,000 each to come home. But when the pandemic broke out, these had to be cancelled and new tickets booked through the Central government’s Vande Bharat Mission. Air India charged him Rs 1,38,000 (2450 dollars) for each ticket, making it a total of Rs 4,14,000 for all three of them.
"It was no good that we worked in a country like Canada. For someone doing general jobs, to save this much after all your expenses, it takes at least eight months. Vande Bharat Mission! I heaved a long sigh," Siva wrote in his post.
The bigger surprise for them was on boarding the flight, which was packed without any sort of distancing between the passengers. “We didn’t understand why the tickets were then so costly,” Siva says. The food served was pathetic, he says. A packet of mixture and what looked like a low quality version of chips. It was also announced that there would be no other food for the 16 hours of the flight.
“We didn’t have it. My child of seven years stayed hungry with us and none of us even used the toilet. Even the masks they provided were wet with the water they gave leaking onto it,” Siva says.
Reaching the Delhi airport did nothing to lift their spirits. They had to stand in a queue for seven hours, again without any option to have hygienic food or water. “The condition in the airport was also pathetic. There was no physical distancing. We found people sitting on the floor and having food. An army official who was supposed to supervise the people was without a mask, eating a chapati he held in his hands without even a plate to put it in.”
People sit on the floor and have food at the Delhi airport / Courtesy - Siva
When their turn came, police officials asked them to choose from a list of hotels to stay in quarantine in Delhi. “All of these were ridiculously expensive. We couldn’t afford it and requested that we be allowed to go home, since we had already booked tickets to Kerala. It took another three hours before the official could be persuaded, who took mercy on the child with us. But another young man from Andhra, who was near us and pleading with the official, had no such luck. He was a heart patient and had all the medical papers with him. He was still fighting his case when we left!” Siva says.
He alleges in his post that this is one way they make money, insisting on quarantining in expensive hotels. He further alleges that if a person contracts the virus during their quarantine they would be forced to go to private hospitals, where they would have to spend lakhs more.
Twelve more hours of waiting later, Siva and his family took a flight home, still not having eaten. “All the time we waited, we saw no one disinfecting any of the places that so many people were passing through. On reaching Kerala, we could spot the difference immediately. We walked through the glass corridor of Nedumbassery airport and after we passed, it was disinfected. We were then made to stand in front of a glass box with a camera sticking out of it, for our thermal scanning. Our bags too were disinfected and everywhere, proper distancing was maintained between the people. In 45 minutes we were out of the airport and in a taxi, separating the front side from the back, we reached home. I am not taking political sides, just telling the facts of the experience we have been through.”
After nearly two days of not having food, the family had a hearty lunch at home -- rice and ‘moru curry’ (buttermilk) -- and it has never tasted so good before, Siva writes.