Bengaluru: Thousands of people returning to Karnataka from Tamil Nadu using the government’s Seva Sindhu services portal found themselves in a fix at the border after being presented with two options — pay for a 14-day institutional quarantine or go back.
Speaking to ThePrint, many such people claimed that they were forced to turn back in the last couple of days, from different points of the state border, as they couldn’t pay Rs 14,000-16,000 for quarantine in a hotel.
Sunil Shastri, a student who wants to return to Bengaluru, spoke to ThePrint over the phone from Hosur, a border town in Tamil Nadu.
“I am a student studying in Chennai. My family lives in Bengaluru. After my hostel closed down, I have been trying to get back home. Now when I reached here, I was told I have to stay in a hotel in Electronic City paying Rs 1,200 per day or go back. How can we pay that kind of amount?” Shastri asked.
Supriya Yadav, who had gone to attend a wedding in Tamil Nadu’s Salem and got stuck after the nationwide lockdown was announced in March, said she had applied on the Seva Sindhu app and had an e-pass to cross over to Karnataka. But when she reached the border, police officers reportedly told her that she had to quarantine herself at a hotel and not at home, or return.
“I work in Bengaluru and stay far away from my family. I won’t be able to afford to pay Rs 16,000 just to stay in a hotel. I begged the officer to take my number, and monitor me 24/7. I promised I won’t leave my home. They just said, pay or go back,” she said.
Several questions were raised on Karnataka’s Covid helpline as well as on social media over the issue, said sources associated with the helpline.
In a video shot by one of the returnees at Attibele, the first entry point into Bengaluru from Tamil Nadu, a police officer could be heard telling people: “Those who are entering Bengaluru city or Bengaluru district, you have two options. One has to undergo 14-day hotel quarantine. The revenue officials have arranged for hotels in Electronic City which costs Rs 1,200 per day. You can quarantine yourself there. The second option is — go back. You have just these two options.”
The Bengaluru police, however, said such an announcement should not have been done by any officer.
“As police, our job is to provide protection. But if my officers have been found announcing in such a way, it is wrong. We will further sensitise them on how to go about their duties,” Superintendent of Police, Bengaluru Rural, Ravi Channannavar told ThePrint.
“We will follow MHA guidelines on people who need to undergo quarantine. There are three ways of doing it — people can opt for institutional quarantine, if found symptomatic will be sent to a Covid hospital, or if they cannot afford will be asked to undergo 14 days quarantine in a government facility.”
The B.S. Yediyurappa government issued an order Monday making the 14-day institutional quarantine compulsory for all those returning to the state. The order aims to control the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the state government, over 1.25 lakh people had applied from other states to return to Karnataka through the Seva Sindhu app.
What the government says
Asked about the complaints, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister Ashwath Narayan said the government has made adequate free stay arrangements in government hostels and institutions to accommodate those who are unable to pay.
“We have 7,000 government institutions ready to help people undergo the quarantine period. I have spoken to the chief secretary as well as the nodal officer to ensure that people who cannot afford paying for their quarantine in hotels be given clean accommodation,” Narayan told ThePrint.
Another government official said only those who want to stay in hotels have been asked to pay. There are other facilities available for free.
“All those people who have approved e-passes were given information about free and paid arrangements though SMS and voice message individually,” said Ajay Seth, one of the nodal officers for Covid-19 operations.
“The government has made arrangements for institutional quarantine in hostels, kalyan mandaps, schools, etc without any charges. Those wanting to stay in a hotel have to pay,” added Seth, who is also the managing director of Namma Metro.