LINDA CHHAKCHHUAK | 11 JULY, 2020
Sense of abandonment
The north eastern region (NER) of India is nowhere in the aviation map of the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) creating anxiety among thousands of NER origin persons stranded abroad futilely waiting their turn to fly home amid the global Covid19 pandemic. “When will our turn come?” they wonder in whatsapps groups created solely to coordinate themselves in case, by some miracle, there is a flight for them. They feel totally abandoned.
But that’s not going to happen unless the ministry of external affairs (MEA), Government of India adds flights to Guwahati in their wide itinerary under the VBM programe.
Surprisingly, none of the State Governments of the NER states, nor their MPs or many activists have seriously taken up the case of their stranded abroad up with the Centre.
When any stranded person abroad hailing Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura or Sikkim goes to the websites of the MEA to see the flights listed they find Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport Guwahati is not in the list, putting these stranded persons of NER in a major delima over how to book their tickets home even if they had the werewithal to do so.
The flagship COVID19 mission to bring home the NRIs has over flown the region therefore goes towards reinforcing the feeling and experience that the problems and people of the NER just do not figure in the minds of the Delhi-centric rulers and bureaucrats of this country.
Not surprisingly then, out of a total of 1926 VBM flights listed in the website of the ministry of external affairs, Government of India none is destined for Guwahati, the only International airport the region can boast of. This airport is the feeder for the rest of the states of the region. These VBM flights had started flying from May 7, 2020 in four phases till July 9, 2020. The only flights that landed in Assam were three flights that came from Kyrgysthan, Russia, Ukraine and the Phillipines. What about from other countries where NER people are stranded?
The VBM flights, which the country’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had proudly announced would bring home stranded Indians has commendably brought home over 5 lakh Indians from all across the globe to the different cities of the country. But the citizens of the NER could never avail of these flights as none of the flights were headed to their home region.
Stranded in Dubai
When stranded from NER want to register in the website of the Consulate Genral of India Duibai, to register to travel home, they end up in a delima as they find that the form does not list the nearest international airport to their home states, which is the Guwahati aiport in Assam. It is not found in the list of airports. The nearest that appears in this list for them is Kolkatta, West Bengal state which is more than 1500 miles away from their homes in the upland states of the NER of India.
But not giving up hope, the feisty NER people as usual have bonded together to look after themselves by chartering their own flight as they did in Dubai, UAE.
A stranded person in Dubai, UAE told this reporter that with great difficulty some volunteers with philanthropically minded people of that place had managed to charter a flight to Guwahati and had transported 185 people. This had left Dubai on July 3.
But surprisingly, immediately after that when more flights were being organized, not only for the NER but for other parts of the country as well, the Government of India went about and cancelled all the previous permissions already granted for chartered flights. Many hundreds of stranded Indians, already burdened with joblessness, homelessness and even lacking proper food, and happy to be headed for home were thrown into turmoil because of this last minute action by the GOI, said the reports from the gulf.
A person who said that she and her husband were booked to travel home after resigning from their jobs in March last but were stranded because the lockdown in India happened later that month, told this reporter that since then they have been trying to get a flight home to Assam.
“We are relieved that there will be no fines on our visa until August 18 as ours was cancelled due to our resignation. We are just hoping that there will be a flight for Guwahati before then, or else well be in even more of a problem,” she said. However, so far there’s no sight of any flight scheduled to fly to Guwahati. Most of the stranded along with her in Dubai are from Assam, Manipur, Sikkim and a few from Mizoram and Nagaland.
She said that the volunteers are still working hard to get a chartered flight for them. But so far they have not received the required permissions from the Government of India.
Meanwhile, it is said that the Consulate in Dubai and Embassy I Abu Dhabi had called people to tell them that flights were there and announced bookings open on a first come first served basis resulting in crowds outside Air India offices.
Even if the NER people wanted to book tickets online these are all blocked by the travel agents, it is said. VBM as far as they are concerned is only a business opportunity for the travel agents given permission to sell the tickets. And as said earlier, they cannot book any flight for Guwahati, their home destination. They sure are an abandoned lot, even more stranded among the stranded Indians.