The Jammu and Kashmir government has started evacuating its people stranded in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh following Covid-19 lockdown. “Over 8,000 people have been brought back to the UT till Wednesday evening in a regulated manner,” said the Commissioner-Secretary PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control, Ajeet K Sahu, who is also the overall incharge of arrangements for monitoring movement of essential supplies and people at Lakhanpur.
Sources said those brought home so far also include 376 students studying in Kota; nearly 135 of them hailed from Kashmir Valley.
There are approximately 15,000 people, mostly labourers, from Jammu and Kashmir who are stranded in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, Sahu said, adding those who are in distress are being brought back.
UT residents usually return home during this time for harvesting their standing crop and sowing new ones, Sahu said, adding “we are facilitating the return of only those whom respective deputy commissioners say that they are the vulnerable class and are in distress”.
To facilitate their travel up to Lakhanpur bordering Punjab, the UT government has requested neighbouring states to arrange transport for them. In some cases, people also have to pay for their transport, sources said, adding that from Lakhanpur, the UT government has arranged buses for them to their native places.
Among the returnees, those who have already undergone institutional quarantine in the neighbouring states are being sent directly to their native places for home quarantine while the rest are being sent to institutional quarantine.
A large number of people from Jammu and Kashmir, including students, traders, labourers etc., who are stranded across the country in view of the continued lockdown, are constantly pressing for their return home, with opposition parties too demanding the UT government to make arrangements for their return.
Senior Congress leader M K Bhardwaj and Kisan Sabha president Hari Chand Jalmeria have alleged that a large number of people hailing from Kathua, Samba, Jammu and Udhampur districts, who had gone to different parts of the country for work, were in distress as they have spent all the earnings during the continued lockdown.
Pointing out that they were starving and had no shelter in the respective states where they were stranded, they asked both the central and the UT governments to help them reach their respective native places in UT.
Senior Congress leader and former union minister Prof Saifuddin Soz also demanded the UT government provide free transport to stranded people as they have already exhausted their earnings.
Meanwhile, Principal Secretary Planning, Monitoring and Development Department, Rohit Kansal, said “Jammu and Kashmir is shortly issuing a detailed SoP to facilitate organised movement of labourers, students”, while appealing them to “not move without prior consent of the UTJK administration”.
“All unregulated arrivals to be quarantined for 21 days at Lakhanpur,” said Kansal, who is also the spokesperson of Jammu and Kashmir government.
“Please have patience. All will be back soon,” tweeted the Union Minister of State in the PMO Dr Jitendra Singh.
Last week, Singh, in a video conference with councilors of urban local bodies, had hinted at bringing back J&K residents in small groups from wherever they are stranded in the country. “All of us are keen that people held up in different places should unite with their families,” he had said, adding “We cannot take any risk in haste.”
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