Kerala messes up return of stranded Keralites from other States

Chappals on road

Kerala should have facilitated an ordered return of Keralites stranded in other States by arranging buses and trains for them. This is what other States have done for stranded citizens though belatedly. (However, even those States nor the Centre have taken care of the entire migrant work force till now).

The Kerala government let the stranded Keralites including students to their own devices, subjected them to a cumbersome bureaucratic process and created chaos at the borders. Many had to spend large sums from their pockets to hire vehicles.

This shows the State was ill-prepared for the influx of Keralites returning to their homes. This was despite its claims that quarantine facilities were ready. In fact, the LDF government is facing the consequences of successive governments driving large numbers Keralites out of the State by not creating job opportunities here.

The skewed development process in the past (Kerala model) has resulted in white collar workers from Kerala leaving for jobs outside and blue collar migrant workers coming to Kerala. Neither the State nor the Centre had any plans to deal with their issues before or after declaring the first and second phase of lock down. Even during this third phase, very little is being done compared to the enormity of the problem.

The Centre and States should have jointly addressed this problem long back and funded the process. But the Centre has abdicated its responsibility in an inter-State matter.  So, the States cannot be faulted for much of the problems.  The solution now may be to open up public transport and take the risk (unless the State and Centre can manage the current situation properly). A degree of social distancing, hand-washing and masks could be insisted upon.

Whether you do phased withdrawal of lock down or not, the present humanitarian crisis cannot be allowed to continue. There is now the possibility of corruption rearing its head at the borders —many will sneak in or be taken for a ride by agents, literally as well as figuratively. The government is already bogged down by cases registered for violation of lock down. There is also the distinct possibility that something similar to the tragedy at Aurangabad could happen in Kerala also. People are already taking the forests routes. Migrant workers are trying to smuggle themselves out in truck and some have started long walk from Kasaragod. In Eranakulam and other districts, police have beaten up migrant workers. Someone could die anytime in incidents like these.

It is also notable that Keralites stranded in other States are getting step-motherly treatment compared to those returning from Gulf countries. Politicians know where money and influence are.

Update (11-5-2020)

More details are now available as to how Kerala government messed up the return of Keralites stranded in other States.

The about-turn of the government on issuing passes at the borders, suspension of online registration etc caused much confusion. The instruction 3 of Government order dated 6/5/2020 indicated that people could come to the borders without passes. The only condition was that they had to undergo institutional quarantine. However, the government changed tune by May 8 because it could not handle the influx. The Chief Minister Pinarai Vijayan stated in his evening press conference that only those with passes from Kerala government would be allowed to enter the State. (The download link to this order, appended below, has now been removed from the official Website of General Administration Department).

Meanwhile, the registration process for issue of passes remained suspended for two days. Many people who thought that no more passes would be issued rushed to the entry points at the borders. Besides, the stranded Keralites were required to take passes from originating State as well as Kerala and valid dates for passage often did not match. So, some landed at the borders ahead of their date of entry to Kerala. (This has now been sorted out with Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu will now issue passes only if passes of Kerala have already been obtained). These were also people who were traveling in a group. While some got their passes, application of others of the same group were pending (and they hoped to sort out the matter at the borders). Sometimes this was because they belonged to different districts. Some districts took longer time to grant the passes after making arrangements for quarantine. (Still the system worked effectively in facilitating and enforcing quarantine). Though the government claimed that it had more than a lakh rooms ready for quarantining people, they were not actually ready for occupations. Besides, the government wanted to give priority to expatriates arriving from abroad.

Everyone has a right to return home.

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