SNT'S Chief Engineer cum General Manager Karma Namgyal Bhutia and State Nodal Officer Rinzing Chewang Bhutia

Gangtok, June 8: Since the Centre’s Ministry of Home Affair’s (MoHA) order on April 29, to all States\UTs to start bringing their stranded citizens in other states home, the evacuation and movement process of stranded Sikkimese citizens across the nation, has been going on since from May 3. Many questions regarding this area in the Sikkim’s general public’s mind, maybe because of the rising coronavirus cases in the state ever since returnees were brought home. All of the state’s confirmed cases are returnees who were in quarantine facilities before or were still there. Questions that most of the general public is curious about are:

  1. How many stranded returnees have been evacuated and since then entered the state?
  2. How many have and were registered online for the journey home?

Many figures from the Administration helped Sikkim Chronicle answer the public’s queries, like the SNT Department’s Principal Chief Engineer cum General Manager, Karma Namgyal Bhutia, who informed of the following:

  • 10,200 stranded Sikkimese have registered themselves online till date, to return to Sikkim and from the above figure, 5800 returnees have evacuated and have entered the State.
  • With educational institutions reopening from July 1, around 1500-2000 non-locals, who had come to study in the state or own business or work in Sikkim like workers in factory, school or college faculty, who had returned to their state before the lockdown and during, have registered online to come back to Sikkim. 
  • 5600 online registrations made by stranded persons are pending, from the 5500 almost 1421 people no longer wish to return home and from 1421, 350-400 people have made arrangements to stay where they are, for them the Government has provided economic relief fund for. 
  • Almost 3000 people are now left from the initial 5600 pending registrations, and from the 3000 registration, about 950 stranded people have been unresponsive or have not received the call from the authorities. 
  • From 2100 left whose entry is pending, around 100-150 are the only ones who are Sikkimese, which means most stranded Sikkimese people were able to return home 

Were the returnees tested for the virus in the state they were stranded in, before returning home, or were they tested and confirmed once they reached the quarantine facility in Sikkim? Were there questions in the online registration asking if they had tested for the virus themselves in the state in which they were stranded?

These questions arose because all of Sikkim’s positive cases are returnees, and most importantly the third positive case found out that they were infected after leaving Maharashtra where they had tested while boarding a bus home in NJP, West Bengal, the results confirming the virus was received.

Regarding these burning questions SC reached out to the State Nodal Officer, Rinzing Chewang Bhutia, who said, “In the online registration questionnaire, these questions were asked, on top of this question we have also gathered their health information and status on pre-existing health condition, but when the registration process started due to chaos with returnees and the initial process of bringing returnees home, many might have omitted this question. Keeping this in mind, now we issue online permits for their movement, so which records all the travel history and through what modes of transportation the returnees took, for example- the cab they took, flight details, train details and everything else from that state they were stranded into how they entered Sikkim so that if contact tracing is required it will be much easier, this entry permit has been designed so.”

SC has also been receiving queries as to the status of the returnees who have been unable to return to the state because of not being able to board the Shramik train used for the movement of the returnees. The still stranded Sikkimese had asked us as to how they will be able to come home.

Chewang informs that the remaining stranded persons have been given the freedom to come on their own, and the Nodal Office will pay for their train journey if they submit the photos of the tickets to the Nodal Office through WhatsApp.

“Even though we sympathize with those who were unable to board the Shramik Trains and because of that we’re unable to return home, there were lots of difficult circumstances with obtaining permits for vehicles and trains, arranging security, some were left behind, but we can assure that there are not more than 100-200 of them from across the nation. Now with most states returning to normalcy and most travel such as flights and travels being allowed by the Centre and State governments and are operating, the remaining stranded Sikkimese can return by themselves, instead, the State government will refund travel expenses,” says SNT Department’s Principal Chief Engineer cum General Manager, Karma Namgyal Bhutia.

Sikkim now has 7 positive confirmed coronavirus cases, the patients are receiving treatment at STNM Hospital, Sochayghang which is the state’s COVID-19 Centre. 

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