Harpreet Singh Dhindsa, a man in his 50s, had been stranded at Nanded’s Hazur Sahib gurdwara along with six members of his family since March 19. At 7.15 am Sunday, the family, which hails from Phagwara, finally entered Punjab’s Bathinda after over a month as part of a convoy of eight buses carrying 243 pilgrims.
As he de-boarded at the Bathinda-Dabwali border, Dhindsa thanked god, and added: “We had no problem at Hazur Sahib. Gurdwara management took good care of all of us, but of course we wanted to be back home. Namurad bimari karke, assi ek mahina vapis nahi aa sake. Assi Punjab sarkar ate hor sariyan da dhanvad karde haan, jihna ne sade vapas aan vich madad kiti (because of the pandemic, we could not come back for over a month. We are thankful to the Punjab government and all those who helped in bringing us back).”
A Mohali resident, T P Singh, could not control his tears as the bus reached Dabwali in Haryana, only a few kilometres from Punjab border. “Waheguru ne kirpa kiti,assi vapas aa gaye haan.. Sehat vi theek hai.sarkar de uprale da dhanvad karde haan (God blessed us and we are back, our health is also perfect and we are thankful to the government),” he said.
Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal claimed that the Maharashtra government buses that brought the first batch of pilgrims back were arranged and paid for by Hazur Sahib Management Board.
Pilgrims revealed that 10 buses had started from Nanded, but eight entered Punjab as two others had passengers from Haryana.
Eight buses which reached Bathinda Sunday morning were later sent to different districts from where the passengers hailed after conducting medical screening and providing them breakfast. Out of total 243 passengers that arrived, 56 each were from Amritsar and Ludhiana. There were 32 passengers from Jalandhar and 21 from Bathinda, among others.
After entering Bathinda border, a basic medical check up of all passengers was done. Bathinda SDM Amardeep Singh Tiwana said: “A team of about 20 persons, including medical staff, was deployed overnight near Bathinda border.”
Out of the total passengers, 21 were from Bathinda and all of them were sent to quarantine centres after thermal scanning instead of sending them to their houses. The SDM added,”We will be doing their detailed medical examination, they will be tested for novel coronavirus and if they test negative, they will be sent home and will be home quarantined for 14 days as a matter of precaution. Samples have been taken and reports will be received by Monday. If anyone tests positive, he/she will be sent to an isolation centre. We want to follow all health protocols.”
In Ludhiana, passengers were sent home straight away for quarantine after medial examination, test sampling and stamping. Quarantine notices were pasted outside their houses as well.
“If any pilgrim tests positive, that person will be admitted to a hospital,” revealed health officials in Ludhiana.
More buses on the way
Meanwhile, 80 more buses on their way for Nanded to bring back the remaining stranded pilgrims. Each bus has 3 drivers, one conductor, a cop and a transport department employee. Punjab’s Director Transport Bhupinder Singh Rai said that all are PRTC Volvo buses.
“Our 80 buses started for Nanded Saturday afternoon and will be back by Wednesday night or Thursday morning,” said Rai.
Over 3700 pilgrims were stranded in Nanded. When asked about the number being brought back, Rai added: “243 have already reached Punjab and another 2,800, who are still there, will be coming back in our buses. However, a few may be coming by private vehicles or buses. I am not aware of their arrangement.”
Although expenditure details will be worked out later, but the state transport department revealed that it will be minimum Rs one lakh per bus. “It will be more than Rs 80 lakh, but this is a rough estimate as of now. This includes fuel charges, food, medical facilities, maintenance charges etc,” Rai told The Indian Express.
Politics over pilgrims’ journey
Though Punjab Government has asserted that bringing back these pilgrims is their efforts, but Bathinda MP and Union Minister Harsimrat Badal has claimed that she had raised this matter with Union Home Ministry and got the nod.
After the first bus reached Punjab, Harsimrat Badal tweeted on Sunday afternoon, saying: “My gratitude to Hazoor Sahib Management Board which arranged and paid for the buses which brought pilgrims back home today.”
In a separate tweet, SAD president Sukbir Badal wrote,”I thank almighty for the safe return of first batch of Sikh pilgrims who were stranded in Sri Hazur Sahib for 40 days. My gratitude to the gurdwara management committee and SAD Mumbai unit for making this possible. I pray for the safe return of the remaining Sangat still in #Nanded.”
Pilgrims who returned in 8 buses
Ludhiana- 56, Amritsar 56, Jalandhar -32, Bathinda- 21, Moga – 21, Sangrur -16, Batala- 11, Fazilka- 9, SBS Nagar- 4, Patiala- 3, Mohali- 3, Ropar-4