Do the New Cases of Coronavirus Indicate the Perils of Interstate Travel?

Do the New Cases of Coronavirus Indicate the Perils of Interstate Travel?

Barasha Das | May 10, 2020 09:24 hrs

Do the new cases of coronavirus indicate the perils of interstate travel?

As the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown got extended for a third phase, state borders across the country were opened up to allow stranded people to return to their respective states. 

“It is clarified that the MHA orders are meant for movement of such stranded persons, who had moved from their native places/workplaces, just before the lockdown period, but could not return to their native places workplaces on account of restrictions placed on movement of persons and vehicles as part of lockdown measures. The facilitation envisaged in the aforesaid orders is meant for such distressed persons, but does not extend to those categories of persons, who are otherwise residing normally at places, other than the native places purposes of work etc., and who wish to visit their native places in the normal course,” the Home Secretary stated in a letter sent to the all state chief secretaries and UT administrators on 3rd May.

Likewise, Assam opened its borders for inward traffic from 3rd May onwards. “Inter-state travel across all NE states will be open and no passes will be required for the same,” announced Himanta Biswa Sarma.

People of Assam stranded in 6 northeastern states apart from Sikkim were allowed to travel back to the state in their private vehicles without any passes. However, these travelers will be screened at the borders before entering.

Alongside, the Assam government also permitted the return of people from the other parts of the country in their private or arranged vehicles, provided a prior permission is taken from the appointed nodal officers and other concerned authorities.

As such many from across India, mostly groups of students from different states, entered Assam from the very next day. As reported by Sarma, 3,760 people entered Assam on 3rd May alone.

The civil and police administration along with health workers have set up screening camps at the entry gates at Srirampur in Kokrajhar district and Chagolia-Boxirhat in the Dhubri district to ensure proper screening. From there the travelers are to be sent to the nearest quarantine facility as per their destination. Four quarantine centers have been prepared for the same at Sarusajai Stadium, Jorhat, Tezpur and Silchar, where further testing would be done and further procedures would be prescribed.

Ever since, e-passes have been issued by the authorities for people to enter Assam without any daily capping.

As of 7th May, 1032 persons have  entered Assam. Of these 979 people entered through the Srirampur gate and  53 through Sagolia. From here they have been send to the different quarantined facilities- 704 came to Guwahati, 126 went to Kokrajhar, 103 to Jorhat, 77 to Tezpur, and 22 to Cachar zonal centers.

Meanwhile, relaxations have been issued across Assam for the third phase of the lockdown as 29 of the 33 districts have been demarcated as green zones and 4 as orange zones, without any red zones. People started crowding the public places, and reports of violation of lockdown protocols from various places, be it public transport or markets has become a regular feature.

Coronavirus patients amongst passengers from Rajasthan

Amidst this, a bus from Rajasthan carrying 42 passengers entered Assam on 6th May. Random testing of the passengers at the Silchar quarantine facility proved one person positive. He was showing symptoms of Covid-19. 

Faridul, the patient, who hails from Dhekiajuli area of Sonitpur district, is a wanted criminal with reference to cases of car lifting.

There are several cases registered against him at Kaliabor, Thelamara, Geetanagar, Nagaon, Changsari and other police stations.

“Faridul is a dreaded car-lifter. Many cases have been registered against him and he was also arrested. His wife informed us that he went to Ajmer ahead of the lockdown,” informed police sources. 

Upon his return to Assam on Wednesday, Faridul went to Silchar to evade arrest in Sonitpur. 

Although the others were asymptomatic, all 41 passengers – 35 adults and 7 children, along with the drivers were quarantined. On 8th May, 9 more passengers tested positive from this lot.

At a press conference on 7th May, Sarma informed that the Deputy Commissioner of Ajmer in Rajasthan had issued the pass to the group to come to Assam without seeking permission from the Assam government.

As per the Ministry of Home Affairs’ guidelines on inter–state travel of migrants, it has been mentioned that “In case a group of stranded persons wish to move between one state/UT and another state/UT, the sending and receiving states may consult each other and mutually agree to the movement by road. The moving person(s) would be screened and those found asymptomatic would be allowed to proceed.”

Concerned citizens have already been questioning about the relevance of allowing relaxations although the fear of coronavirus is still ripe. The necessity of inter-state travel was also being questioned although the sufferings of the stranded could not be overlooked.

Meanwhile, Rajasthan has already sealed its border for inter-state travel. As reported by The Hindustan Times, “Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said that interstate movement will only be allowed as per guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. He has directed the chief secretary to write to chief secretaries of other states informing them that permission for movement in Rajasthan will be given to those who abide by the guidelines and take prior approval from the state. A person will be permitted to travel out of the state only on recommendation of respective district collector by the home department, and action will be taken against any other official giving permission.”

Given the recent positive cases of Covid-19 found in the state amongst passengers from Rajasthan, the questions arise: Will the Assam government question the permission provided by the Deputy Commissioner of Rajasthan without the knowledge of the host state? Was Faridul already symptomatic when he boarded the bus? If so, why was he permitted to travel? 

Himanta Biswa Sarma has already announced capping in the number of passes to be issued per day in order to contain the spread of the virus.

“All people entering Assam will be tested. The laboratories however can test only a limited number of samples per day. We cannot be allowing people to enter and then wait for their sample test to arrive for days. As such the passes issued for inter-state travel will now be limited depending on the number of tests that can be done on the seven ICMR accredited laboratories of Assam,” said Sarma.

Nodal officer for state, GP Singh (ADGP, Law and Order) was not available to comment on the issue and Harmeet Singh (ADGP, Security and Administration) declined to make a comment on the same.

Apart from Faridul, Devraj Acharjee who has returned to Assam after staying in Medinapur of Siliguri, West Bengal for few days has also been tested positive.

Earlier also, a patient from Kokrajhar district with a travel history of Cooch Behar in West Bengal, had tested positive for Covid-19 which clearly justifies the danger of allowing stranded people back to Assam.

These numbers continues to rise as three more persons crossing the inter-stare boundary  reaches Jorhat. Of them, two are ladies who returned from Mumbai and the other is the driver of the ambulance they travelled in.

Will the state government's decision of bringing back stranded people from all over the country make Assam lose its credibility as a near Covid-19 free zone?

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