COVID-19: Confusion, chaos plague Himachal over e-pass violation

Several returnees lying to obtain e-pass, violating home quarantine, allege sources

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Wednesday 24 June 2020
Registration for e-pass underway at an entry point in Shimla. Photo: Rajeev Khanna

Days after the Himachal Pradesh government claimed the highest recovery rate of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19)-infected persons, confusion and chaos prevailed on the ground. From the misuse of electronic passes to government orders putting conditions on availing them, the COVID-19 battle has put many in a bind.

Among those detected positive for the virus are mainly returnees from Delhi and Mumbai. Sources claimed a bigger lacuna, pertaining to misuse of e-pass, is plaguing the crisis.

“There have been cases where people first came to Chandigarh from Delhi (a red zone), stayed for a couple of days and then applied for an e-pass. This way they escaped institutional quarantine and went in for home quarantine,” a source said.

Experts raised concerns on home quarantine being violated with impunity. They also questioned the availability of separate rooms and washrooms, particularly in rented-out centres. There have also been claims of people in home quarantine moving freely in rural and semi-urban areas.

“People are lying to obtain an e-pass. They feign a closed one’s death. Those being sent to institutional quarantine are often seen complaining about not bringing along their basic paraphernalia like toothbrush, toothpaste and even towels,” the source added.

There have also been instances of people showing one place as their destination for e-pass and getting down midway to go someplace else, claimed the source.

The shifting stand of the state government has compounded the problem: Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur on June 22, 2020, said e-passes should be given only to those from the state who have medical grounds and in case of a death. He had added that the state brought back about two lakh people stranded in different parts of the country. 

This led to an outburst among Himachalis, who took to social media saying that it is their democratic right to come to their homeland.

Those from the plains, mainly Delhi and Punjab, who have purchased apartments in the hills, have been demanding that they be allowed to come to the hills to beat the summer heat.

Experts have also questioned the amendments to quarantine norms announced on June 14, wherein the persons covered under standard operating procedures (SOP) for inter-state movement of industrial workers, industrialists, factory owners, traders, raw material suppliers, service providers, inspecting authorities will be exempted from purview of home quarantine provided they have valid permit or e-pass and are not coming from high COVID-19 caseload cities.

Migrant labourers coming in can be sent directly to the work site of the orchardist, agriculturist, contractor, project proponents and can start working at these sites immediately subject to observing all due precautions, including social distancing / isolation and constant monitoring for symptoms.

“The state needs a war-like strategy with proper outreach, quarantine, tracking and treating approach. The strategy of trace, test and treat needs to be put in place. Out of the six dead till now, four were found to be COVID-19-infected only after their deaths,” claimed All India Kisan Sabha leader and former Shimla mayor Sanjay Chauhan.

He stressed that people were not willing to board buses or enter shops out of fear of the virus. “The 125 reported suicides in the last three months cannot be ignored,” he said, adding that the government needs to develop a mechanism for tracking people entering the state.

More than a 100 new COVID-19 cases have been detected in the last four days. The CM called for an effective home quarantine mechanism and constant vigil. He also directed that more facilities of institution quarantine be created.

The state recorded at least 775 positive cases as on June 23, out of which 443 persons have recovered and been discharged. The rate of recovery was over 62 per cent, according to state government data. So far, eight deaths have been reported.

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