‘Switched off’, ‘out of coverage area’: Stranded Kashmiris suffer as officials go incommunicado
Kashmiris stranded outside the valley brought back by government queuing up for screening at a COVID facilitation Centre in Srinagar in June (File Photo: KM/Umar Ganie)
Srinagar: Amid COVID-19 lockdown, thousands of Kashmiris stranded in other states of India are left confused about their possible evacuation by the J&K government as most designated officials remain unreachable.
The phone numbers of the officers, who the stranded have been advised to contact, are either switched off, or out of coverage area.
The problem has been further exacerbated after the government suspended voice calls on all but one mobile phone networks in Kashmir following the killing of top Hizb militant commander Riyaz Naikoo in an encounter in Pulwama on Wednesday.
Only subscribers of BSNL are able to make calls.
A Srinagar resident stranded in Delhi told The Kashmir Monitor that he has been trying to get in touch with the nodal officers but they are either not picking up the calls or their phones are switched off.
“Our Liaison Officer in Delhi Rimpi Ohri whose contact was shared by the government is not picking up the calls. Similarly three other nodal officers too are not receiving calls,” he said.
The Kashmir Monitor too tried to contact Ohri on the mobile phone number given by the government but the call was disconnected.
As per an official communique from J&K government, students stranded in Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Uttrakhand, and Madhya Pradesh states have been informed that they will be evacuated on given dates in batches.
For instance, from Delhi, as per the communique, 300 stranded persons will be evacuated each day from May 9. Three nodal officers and a Liaison officer have been designated for the evacuation process.
“The liaison/Nodal officers appointed for the respective state will coordinate their visit up to Lakhanpur strictly as per the SoP notified by the MHA and the government of Jammu and Kashmir. The students are advised to approach the respective district Magistrates of the state in which they are stranded for seeking necessary permissions/movement passes and remain in constant touch with the Liaison Officers/Nodal Officers,” reads the communique.
A medical student from Srinagar stuck in Delhi since March said he contacted the respective District Magistrate in Delhi who was willing to give the necessary permission to him but the officials from J&K were not contactable.
“As per the government order, we are supposed to be leaving for home from May 9 but so far we don’t know how that is going to happen,” he said.
He added that his friends and contacts studying in Haryana, whose evacuation process as per the government communique was supposed to start from today (May 7), too haven’t been contacted by any official.
“There is so much confusion. We have been hearing that there is lack of vehicles and buses. We are willing to arrange our own vehicles in that case but at least we should be informed how to get the requisite passes,” he said.
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir P K Pole told The Kashmir Monitor that “it was not possible to receive thousands of calls directed to a few phone numbers.”
“In the last few weeks alone, we have evacuated 28000 people and believe there are 40,000 more stranded in several states of India. The numbers are far more than what we had expected in the beginning, so it is going to take some time but we will bring back everyone,” he said.
Pole said that each day, they have the capacity to bring back 3000 people.
“We are covering one state at a time. Haryana and Uttrakhand are the ones from where we will start evacuating students. Delhi will follow,” he said.
He added that those stranded in far off states cannot be evacuated in buses.
“We are seeing if we can bring them back in trains,” he said.