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Flight hope and despair for Calcuttans

Cold shoulder to city residents living abroad
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday said the state government would request the Centre to operate domestic flights to Calcutta and Bagdogra from May 30 and May 28, respectively.

Sanjay Mandal   |   Calcutta   |   Published 23.05.20, 09:11 PM

Domestic flights are scheduled to start operations and bookings have begun but many Calcuttans stuck in different countries across the globe are still unable to get a seat on the repatriation flights back home.

The Centre has announced that domestic flights will resume “in a calibrated manner” from May 25.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday said the state government would request the Centre to operate domestic flights to Calcutta and Bagdogra from May 30 and May 28, respectively.

The state government does not want resumption of domestic flights before that because it is busy handling the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan, Bengal’s worst natural calamity in many years.

“I am asking the chief secretary to request the Centre to operate domestic flights to Calcutta from May 30 and flights to Bagdogra from May 28. We will get a few more days to handle the situation. We are fighting three battles together — disaster, corona and sending migrant workers home,” she said.

Sources in the state government said the chief minister was seeking some time for resumption of inbound domestic passenger flights because the entire administration is busy handling the impact of the cyclone, which has affected 6.5 crore people in Bengal.

Most airlines have opened bookings for their domestic flights.

Air India said it would operate 11 flights daily on an average from Calcutta to Delhi, Mumbai and other cities. The airline usually operates 28 flights from the city, said a spokesperson.

“We are having good bookings for all flights,” the spokesperson said.

Civil aviation ministry officials said those taking Vande Bharat repatriation flights can avail themselves of the connecting flights to their cities but only after spending the mandatory quarantine period at the port of entry.

Several Calcuttans stuck outside said they were ready to do so but the external affairs ministry have not contacted them.

The civil aviation ministry has issued a list of flights Air India will operate till June 13 to bring back stranded Indians from various countries. On the list there is only one flight allotted to Calcutta, which will arrive from Yangon in Myanmar on May 29.

In the first phase, there was no flight to Calcutta. In the second phase, a flight from Dhaka landed in Calcutta on May 18 with 169 Indians.

Tollygunge resident Nishant Agarwal, who went to Utrecht in the Netherlands eight months ago for work, told Metro on Saturday: “I had my return flight in April but the lockdown was announced before I could travel and the flight was cancelled. My parents are alone in Calcutta and father has serious health issues.”

Many such people who are stuck said they had been told by the external affairs ministry that the Indians stranded in the cities where repatriation flights would land were being given priority.

“I can go to Delhi and from there take a domestic flight, but cannot do so because no one has contacted me,” said Nishant.

Santoshi Halder, who is stuck in Ithaca, New York, has two children — aged four and six — in Calcutta.

“The kids could not join me because of the Covid-19 pandemic and now I am stranded here, unable to join them,” she said.

Reet Das, who has been living in Virginia in the US since 2011, needed to come to Calcutta because her mother passed away in April and her 78-year-old father is having to manage everything alone.

“She has written to the external affairs ministry and is still awaiting a confirmation,” said her husband Amritanu.

Raktim Biswas, from Birati, is working for an IT company in Amsterdam. His father has been diagnosed with cancer and he had booked tickets to Calcutta in March and then May. On both occasions, the flights were cancelled.

“I don’t have any sibling and I need to return to Calcutta immediately,” he said.

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