Ramesh Chennithala
Ramesh Chennithala

Opinion: Bringing Keralites back to the state comes with its own challenges

Even as Kerala has just managed to flatten the curve, a massive influx of people from outside would overwhelm the state machinery— from quarantine facilities to hospitals.

On Monday, Kerala’s Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala flayed the Pinarayi Vijayan government over non-resident Keralites (NRKs) stranded in other states across the country. Accusing the government of being preoccupied with a ‘PR stunt’, the Opposition Leader said that the state was unable to send even a single train to ferry non-resident Keralites back to the state.

“It's really unfortunate that not a single train came into Kerala when thousands of students, women and others have been stranded since the lockdown began in various states in the country. They are waiting to return to their home state,” he said.

Chennithala slammed the administration, alleging that district collectors were not issuing passes to inter-state travellers who wish to return to the state.

“There are serious lapses on the part of the government in issuing the passes. The Chief Minister had kept on saying, over the past ten days, that trains will be operated. But this has not been done yet. While other states sent state-run buses to bring back stranded people, the state is not operating a single Kerala RTC bus for that. People are suffering at the borders, no one— even the Ministers who are in charge— is checking on them,” Chennithala had earlier said.

It appears that Chennithala’s accusations have certainly scored political points, with many on social media agreeing with the Opposition Leader. Many have emphatically stated that Kerala belongs to all Keralites and no one needs permission to return.

The accusations, however, make one wonder if normalcy has returned to the state, which has managed an impressive containment of the novel coronavirus.

As lockdown restrictions began to ease in the first week of May, the state government started issuing passes for stranded Keralites outside the state.

By May 4, passes had been issued to 30,000 people. The state resumed issuing of passes after registrations stopped for a single day on May 7.

As of May 8, over 16,000 people had returned to the state, including 9,000 from hotspots. Six flights have been operated to the state under the Vande Bharat Mission of expatriating stranded Indians. The Indian Navy’s INS Jalashwa arrived in Kochi on Sunday from the Maldives with 698 repatriated Indians.

Another flight is arriving at the port city on May 11 from Singapore.

Even so, at a time when the state has just managed to flatten the curve, a massive influx of people from outside would overwhelm the state machinery— from quarantine facilities to hospitals.

For example, there are strict norms to get passes for inter-state travellers who apply through the government’s Jagratha website. While the system as such is not without its flaws, the effort of issuing the pass to quarantining to screenings at the checkpost is an enormous task.

Two Keralities who recently returned to the state— Nishad KP from Chennai and Aswanth MC via the Walayar checkpost— have appreciated the government, stating that it has been competent to ensure that the influx is handled without many lapses. Both men returned to the state by getting passes through the Jagratha website.

Even as the state and the country ease lockdown restrictions, operate flights and announce train services, it is more imperative than ever to be cautious not to strain the state’s public health service which has, as Chennithala points out, received international plaudits.

While the Opposition has said that NRKs should be repatriated only after ICMR protocols are adhered to, it is important to remember that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Any move that threatens to derail the progress made thus far is best avoided.

Opinions expressed are the author's own.



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