Flight row: figure out who’s fibbing
Amid controversy over why not one of the 205 repatriation flights planned till date was being sent to Calcutta, the external affairs ministry waded into the debate on Thursday night.
Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava tweeted: “…Will gladly facilitate flights to Kolkata if state government will confirm arrangements to receive and quarantine…. We hope to receive an early response on the matter.”
The Centre appeared to insinuate that flights were being denied to Calcutta because the state government had not communicated information about the local arrangements.
The following is the information The Telegraph has gathered from the public domain as well as from sources.
May 6: The first communication from the office of the foreign secretary reaches the Bengal government, according to a senior state official. This was followed by a text message from the Union home secretary, which was followed by another communication from the joint secretary of civil aviation.
May 7: First repatriation flight starts.
May 8: Bengal chief secretary Rajiva Sinha writes to Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla, acknowledging the receipt of the central guidelines for repatriation and informing the Centre that “the required preparations for institutional quarantine facilities for the foreign returnees to West Bengal have been put in place”. A copy of the letter was also sent to foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
May 11: Bengal chief secretary Sinha writes to the chief passport officer, informing the MEA that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport is the designated airport for repatriation and providing a list of the quarantine facilities with details of the number of beds and rates for the paid quarantine.
According to the list, 738 pay-and-use rooms had been lined up at varying rates, apart from 700 free beds in government quarantine centres.
May 13: The Centre releases second list of repatriation flights. None to Bengal.
May 14: The external affairs ministry spokesperson tweets about the wait for “early response” from Bengal after state minister Partha Chatterjee asks the Centre to “stop this injustice” (the absence of flights to the state).
May 15: Bengal government says it is “keen to welcome back our people stranded in different countries and had long back communicated its agreement as well as quarantine arrangements details etc to GOI for special international inbound journeys…. Bengal awaits flights.”
May 15, 9pm: Srivastava, the external affairs ministry spokesperson, tweets: “Welcome willingness of GOWB to accept returnees from abroad, who are from West Bengal. Request early confirmation of modalities to be followed upon arrival of passengers at Kolkata Airport.
“Like other States, such detailed SOP is necessary to finalise repatriation flights to Kolkata from Dhaka, Bangkok, Yangon, Kathmandu, Singapore, London, Dubai & NYC.”
May 15, 10pm: A senior Bengal official tells this newspaper: “The modalities are standardised and there is a routinised, institutionalised and well-laid-down process on what to do with the returnees…. The Centre has already sent a detailed SOP (standard operating procedure) on what to do with the returnees. What else do we need to explain?”