For at least 100 families from Kolkata who have come to Christian Medical College Hospital (CMC) in Vellore, Tamil Nadu seeking treatment, it has been a tiring long wait to go back home. With elective surgeries postponed due to the coronavirus situation, the hospital has informed all patients that the scheduled surgeries have been cancelled.
The city has a few dedicated streets in Gandhi Road, Saidapet and Sathuvachari where lodges specifically for patients and their relatives, can be found.
Now, hard pressed for funds many patients and their families are living in these lodges, struggling to make ends meet.
A few managed to arrange for private vehicles and with a pass from the Collectorate, have left to their respective hometowns. However, most of them said the cost of the ambulance to travel till Kolkata is just not within their means.
23-year-old Rahul* (name changed), came down to Vellore from Kolkata, with his 22-year-old wife and 50-year-old mother in the first week of April for treatment.
“We came all the way from Kolkata to CMC because what cost us Rs 30,000 here, would have cost us anywhere between Rs 70,000- Rs 80,000 back in our city. But now we have already spent more than Rs 20,000 for just living here,” he told The Quint.
They are staying in a lodge in Saidapet which calls for a rent of Rs 230 per day. After the first lockdown was extended, Rahul along with several others went to the Collectorate and appealed for help. The district administration issued an order stating no lodges should charge money for their stay till 14 April. And for the period after that, an order was issued that they require to pay only 50 per cent of the lodging fees and the district will take care of the rest.
However, this has eaten into all their savings, said many.
Paying Rs 115 per day, would account for nearly Rs 3,500 for a month. Rahul had sold their family jewellery to afford these medical expenses.
While a few NGOs have been helping them out by providing groceries and cooked meals on a few days, it has been very difficult to sustain themselves and they are unsure of the future.
‘When Will We See Home?’
Rahul’s 75-year-old grandparents are all alone back home and so he decided to make a few frantic calls to figure out a way to get home.
“I called several ambulance services and they charged me Rs 1,30,000 to go up till Howrah in Kolkata. If I had that kind of money, I will buy my own car and drive home. Or I will live my lockdown here in luxury.”Rahul*, Bengali Patient
The Quint contacted five ambulance services in the city and all of them told that the trip will cost anywhere between Rs 90,000 to Rs 1,30,000. The journey will take five days for to and fro. They also added that additional service charges might apply, ‘but if the patient manages to get the pass, they can handle their return as they have a lot of vehicles ready for transportation.’
45-year-old Suman *(name changed) came to Vellore on 7 April for a leg surgery for his aged father. The doctors had scheduled his surgery for 15 April, which was then pushed to a further date, which was again cancelled. He had sold his family property to get Rs 40,000 for the surgery. But they have already spent over Rs 45,000 and he says the infection has worsened.
When asked if he tried to arrange for an ambulance, he scoffed saying he “can’t even imagine that. I cannot see my father in his eyes because I am guilty for making him suffer. I just want to go back home.” His mother is all alone in a village in West Bengal and relying on the neighbours for daily meals.
Several of them complained that their calls to Kolkata nodal officer and all helpline numbers have not received any response till date. Mails, Facebook messages and tweets have also not received any reply.
“When we don’t have money to barely survive, then how can find this much money to make that one trip?”Suman,* Kolkata Migrant
The Quint tried reaching the Vellore Collector but received no response.
On 4 May, hundreds of stranded persons gathered outside the Vellore Collectorate demanding that the state make arrangements for transportation to back to their hometowns.
Superintendent of Police Praveshkumar, assured that proper directions would be issued to landowners to not evict them and the Collector will soon make arrangements for their return home.
No Jobs, Languished, Desperate
Suman couldn’t hold back his tears as he continued talking about how the government has left them in the dark. “I am a young boy who is studying in Kolkata and my father works as a cook in a sweet stall. Today, he has been told he has lost his job,” he said crying.
“Our room is on the terrace and all the men take walks on the terrace bare-bodied. So it becomes scary because I have two women in my room. The people are all very kind but I am just afraid. So I sit near the door all day,” he said.
To make matters worse, Rahul and his wife was affected by pox in the last one month.
The CMC hospital management has been arranging provisions and cooked meals for several patients who have been seeking treatment for a long term and others who have been stranded in the city.
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