Aresa Bibi had travelled to Vellore with her 18-year-old cousin for treatment when the coronavirus outbreak started. After spending close to Rs 1.5 lakh on ambulance and other transport, she managed to cross three states and reach the Bengal border, but her journey has been put on hold at the Bengal-Odisha border.
As the Bengal government seeks to stop any chances of more infected cases entering the state through its borders, hundreds of the state’s own people have been left in the lurch.
Aresa Bibi (35) is now stranded with her teenaged cousin, a kidney patient from and a resident of West Bengal. A homemaker, Aresa Bibi has already spent more than Rs 1 lakh on hiring an ambulance to travel from Tamil Nadu to Bengal.
Around 100 families like Aresa’s have been left stranded on the Odisha-Bengal border since Friday. The number of such people as well patients returning from South India is now going up every day as they have been lodged at locally made tents near checkposts along the border. Some with serious ailments have been accommodated to a local lodging facility arranged by the district police.
These stranded patients and their families are now waiting to enter their own state in the middle of this crisis. They stand a risk of getting sick again even after going through elaborate treatments for their diseases.
Aresa Bibi said, “We were in Vellore for 1.5 months. It was really expensive. We did not step out of the hotel so that we are not exposed to the virus. We hired a personal vehicle and paid approximately Rs 70,000 to 1.5 lakh. We crossed three states and they did not stop us. But when our state government cancelled the listed district magistrate’s pass we showed.”
“We are not allowed to enter our own state. Police is saying that we do not have a permit to enter the state. A district magistrate had given us the permission after discussing it with other states. Then why is Bengal not allowing us to enter. We have been stuck here for the past 5 days. The private vehicle that we all hired promised us to safely take us to our destination. But since, my own state did not let me enter, the vehicle went back leaving us stranded over here,” she narrated.
Aresa Bibi further said that not only this, they were even harassed and threatened by the travel agency through which they had booked the car.
“Even the travel agency harassed us. They initially said that we can pay an advance of Rs 10,000 and subsequently can pay the rest of the money. But during the journey they stopped the car and threatened to pay the rest of the money upfront or else the car will go back to Tamil Nadu. We paid the money somehow using UPI. We hoped that now we will reach our homes safely. But unfortunately, we are still not able to go home. We are not being served proper food too.”
Malati Das, another woman who is trying to return home, is losing her cool while being stranded at the state border.
She said, “The District Superintendent of Police is the biggest liar. He said those who are having problems should go back to Vellore. We were not vacationing in Vellore.”
Many of them have of these people have been shifted to the IIT-Kharagpur hospital where their swab tests are being done and are being released one after the other. Local authorities say these are precautionary measures in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Pijush Ghosh had taken his two sons to Vellore for treatment after they complained of stomachache and digestion issues. He questioned how the government infrastructure itself was flouting the norms of social distancing. He alleged that there is only one bathroom for a hundred people, which does not abide by the distancing rules.
Pijush said, “They told us that the people will be discharged today. But they only discharged the cancer patients. We were supposed to be tested at 11 am but there is no proper system to conduct the tests. Now if more cancer patients arrive, they will be again taken for the tests and we will remain stuck here. We have been stuck here for the past 4-5 days.”
“Police have not made any special arrangements for us. There are 3 toilets and approximately 300 people, everybody is using it. How will we fight Covid-19 in such conditions? We are all stuffed in one common hostel. In case one of them is coronavirus positive, it will spread very easily among others. There are no other arrangements. The food quality is also horrible.”
Bengal Police personnel were supposed to test these people for the novel coronavirus by taking them to the IIT-Kharagpur Hospital. Thereafter, those who test negative were supposed to be allowed to return home but with some conditions.
The families are complaining that the entire process has been very slow for the last three days. Moreover, only the critical patients like those having cancer are being tested and sent home while the others have been cast aside.
Dr. Girish Chandra Bera, Chief Medical Officer of Health, for West Midnapore district hospital said, “We have stopped the people around the border area to ensure that all are tested before they enter the state. We are trying our level best to avoid any delays and help them also.”
Those who have been tested negative will be sent to their respective districts in a bus arranged by the government officials because the ambulances will not be allowed into the state anymore.
These ambulances were checked at every entry and exit point of other states but since this is the last destination, a test becomes the need of the hour. However, the delay is affecting the health of these people who are recovering from other ailments and now stand the risk of contracting coronavirus.