Gangtok, April 25:
Today, 84 Bhutanese students and individuals who were stranded in Sikkim were able to return to their home country. Since there was talk of only a 5-day lockdown initially in March 25-March 31, many did not return home due to the advice of the State government to not practise intra-State travel then. Since the lockdown is now on its second phase from April 14 and it was declared by the State government on April 21, that educational institutions were to remain closed until May 31, this diplomatic decision on the State Government’s part to send Bhutanese students home has come as a welcome source of relief to them.
Bhutan Government decided to bring home all Bhutanese students and individuals stranded outside and requested the Centre Government. The Ministry of External Affairs complied to Bhutan’s request and on April 23, a Druk Air flight took off from Bengaluru with Bhutan bound passengers picking 26 more individuals from Odisha. The decision to take students stranded in Sikkim came after contact was established between the Sikkim Government and Bhutan regarding the situation of the above. Sikkim government used 3 of the SNT buses to drop off the 84 students and individuals up till Rongpo, the students then had to walk the stretch of the Rongpo bridge therein the students had to board buses sent by Bhutan that would then take them home. The SNT buses from Gangtok left at around 11 A.M.
The students have conveyed their gratitude towards the Centre Government, Sikkim Government and Bhutanese Government for this decision. One of the students from Bhutan says, ” We are very happy to be able to return home and very grateful to all the authorities. Since the announcement that all educational institutions will remain closed until May 3, our parents were very worried. We have taken all necessary precautions like social distancing and wearing protective gears while travelling today and I would like to especially thank the Sikkim Government and the Chief Minister on behalf of the Bhutan Government and it’s students for being gracious with our request.”
Sikkim Chronicle spoke to Human Resource Development Department’s Principal Secretary G.P. Upadhaya who informed us that 95% of the students who went today were from the ICFAI University in Gangtok. In regard to bringing back Sikkimese students and workers stranded outside the state the Secretary said, “All the states are under pressure to bring back their people especially lower-level workers who are facing difficulties due to finances. As of now, the Government of India has not taken any such decision, but if they were to, normal flights would not operate hence special flights and trains will have to be used. The central Government is discussing this as of now, it might be possible after May 3 not before that. If this decision were to be taken then the Pakyong Greenfield Airport will be a boon, since the airport has now been declared operable by the Airport Authority.”
We spoke to Tara Narayan and Sarala Pradhan, an aged couple who are in Siliguri ever since the lockdown. They say, “ We are old and are currently alone in Siliguri, we were planning to return to Sikkim when the lockdown was announced overnight. Since we know that coronavirus’s at risk are old age and people with premature existing health problems, we are scared, since both my wife and I are 60+ and have health ailments. Currently the watchman of our building is helping us buy groceries and medicines, but it is difficult fetching money from ATMs for us, despite practising all precautionary measures. We would like to appeal to the State government to give at least one day or arrange travel for his so we could return home.”
A student from Sikkim, Alina Gurung currently studying at Himachal Pradesh and stranded there says, “We were more than 70 students from Sikkim currently studying pharmacy at Abhilash Univeristpeand most of the Sikkimese students at our college are stranded here. As such people are helpful since it is a remote area but we have had instances of people calling us ‘Corona’, so it is scary for us to go out at times. When we heard that the Bhutan government has made arrangements for their people to return home, we were happy for then both also wished out Government were also able to do the same for us. Even though we have received the monetary help of Rs. 5000 from our state government and are very grateful, we would want nothing more than to return home to our families, we would be more than willing to stay at the quarantine facilities for 14 days and do all we can for the benefit of the state. We would like to appeal to the State Government to make arrangements for us like the Bhutan government.”
Statements from people and students stranded outside from Sikkim are more or less the same as above. HRDD Principal Secretary though has informed us that the Government of India is currently discussing the sane which does give a glimmer of hope to the ones stranded outside.
While it had been announced on April 18, by the State government that relief packages would be distributed among Sikkimese and Non-Sikkimese students stranded in the state. The Sikkim University Students Association (SUSA) were told by the authorities to collect names and numbers of these students. As of yet, no such relief packages have been distributed. Mahesh Rai, President of SUSA said, ” from the names we have collected, there are a few Bhutanese students who have given their details for the relief packages, to my knowledge the above students from Bhutan haven’t returned home and are currently still in Sikkim. We have collected more than 500 names of students who need the relief materials so we would be grateful if this was executed.”