A flight from Dhaka landed at the Calcutta airport with 169 passengers on Monday afternoon, the first plane to touch down the city under the second phase of a project to bring back Indians stuck abroad because of the lockdown.
The Air India Flight, which carried 33 Indian passengers to Dhaka earlier in the day, came back to land around 12.30pm. The 33 Indians work in Bangladesh.
The 180-seater plane had flown with less than full capacity to ensure social distancing.
The first passenger came out of the terminal building at 2.10pm and the last at 4pm. Airport officials attributed the delay to health check-ups and immigration clearances following physical distancing norms.
“Fifteen passengers were being asked to disembark in each phase. They underwent temperature screening with a thermal gun. Some other parameters were also checked before they proceeded towards immigration counters,” said an official.
Many of the returnees were medical students. Most of them, who said they spent the lockdown inside hostels or students’ mess, had one common grouse — their friends from other Indian states had returned much earlier.
“Both my sons live in a mess that has several students from Delhi and Mumbai. All of them returned home long ago. It was very frustrating for them to have been left back. They had been constantly pleading with the Indian high commission to get only one response — there was no flight to Calcutta,” said Prodyut Saha, a dentist who lives in Behala.
His two sons, Prithvijit, 23, and Promit, 21, study at the Pioneer Dental College in Dhaka’s Baridhara.
Ankita Das, in the first-year of the MBBS course at Kumudini Women’s Medical College in Mirzapur, who spent the lockdown there at her hostel, echoed the Saha brothers.
“It seemed Bengal was not as important as other Indian states,” said Das, a resident of Sonarpur, on the city’s southern fringes.
The first phase of the Vande Bharat Mission, the Union government’s repatriation mission, saw Air India
operate 64 flights from May 7 to 13 to bring back around 15,000 Indians stranded abroad because of the lockdown forced by Covid-19.
The second phase, from May 16 to 22, is to see 30,000 Indians come back from 31 countries on 149 flights, the Centre has said. Bhubaneswar and Gaya had made it to the list of Indian cities the flights would land in but not Calcutta, triggering a blame game between Bengal and the Centre.
Repatriating stranded people from Bengal has become a thorny issue with the Centre giving the impression that the state was not keen on facilitating the mission. The Bengal home department stated in no uncertain terms on Friday that the state was keen to bring back its people stuck abroad and made all arrangements.
On Saturday, the Bengal administration announced that Calcutta had been included in the list of Indian destinations and the first flight under the mission would come from Bangladesh.
The passengers on Monday’s plane were sent to government centres or private hotels — for the compulsory 14-day quarantine period — according to their choices.
Saha’s two sons were taken to a hotel in Ballygunge. “Their swab samples will be collected shortly,” he told Metro.