The two organisations arrange buses, to send 500 students to Gilgit-Baltistan; another 500 students will depart on March 18
Herald Special Report
As the cases of coronavirus soared in Pakistan, the federal government, as usual, announced the closure of educational institutes and called for enforcing social distancing without putting in place any concrete alternative mechanism to deal with the situation.
This has created panic and fear among the people, especially the students from far away regions living in hostels in major cities. Hundreds of students are stranded at bus terminals due to a shortage of buses.
Although the GB’s Chief Minister has directed the Natco, the only public sector transport service in GB to arrange extra buses for the students, there seem no practical steps in sight.
The federal, as well as Gilgit-Baltistan governments, have failed to respond timely to the global spread of the coronavirus, some individuals and youth organisations have proved to be a godsend.
“When the notification from the government for the closure of universities and colleges was circulated, most of the institutes have already closed their hostels and notified to the private hostels too in the twin cities creating a panic among the students especially the female students,” commented Kamran Wazir, an activist of All Baltistan Movement (ABM).
The ABM and Baltistan Students Federation (BSF) activists on their own swung into action and set up a facilitation desk at Pirwadhai to help the students who had been left in the lurch.
“Many students contacted us from different cities regarding the non-availability of transport. We held a meeting on Monday to discuss the situation,” said Iftikhar Hussain, general secretary ABM, Rawalpindi Division. Prior to the meeting we also started a social media campaign to raise this issue and contacted the GB government with the request to take steps and mitigate the sufferings of the students. But sadly, they didn’t take it seriously, he lamented.
The activists of the two organisations decided to talk to the federal government but we were unable to reach any minister.
Subsequently, the ABM team visited Rawalpindi District administration offices and had a meeting with Deputy Commissioner Chaudhry Muhammad Ali Randhawa and apprised him of the situation.
He assured us to circulate the notification to all private and government hostels in Rawalpindi to keep open the hostels for GB students for a few days while adopting special precautionary measures.
On the request of our team, the DC and the district administration helped us to arrange buses and coaches for the students of Gilgit-Baltistan to go back to their home towns.
Through the letter, it has also been requested to the hostels’ management to refund half month fee for those who are leaving on March 20.
According to Naseem Anchan, another activist of ABM, more than 800 students are stuck in Rawalpindi including those coming from other cities of Punjab, Sindh, and KP.
According to him, 200 students enlisted themselves with the ABM. Of them, 100 have already left for GB in two coasters during the last two days.
We also arranged rent-a-cars for few students on the normal rate fixed by the GB’s Excise and Taxation Department.
Earlier there were reports on social media that the private transporters, especially the rent-a-car owners are overcharging the passengers. They were demanding Rs6,000 to Ra7,000 per person as compared to Rs3,000 to Rs4000.
The activists also contacted DC Skardu and Excise office to facilitate students and ensure safe travel.
On Wednesday another coaster with 30 students onboard will leave for GB.
BSF has also arranged two to three buses for the students.
Two buses were arranged by few social workers from Baltistan, he added.
BSF also arranged one-day accommodation for the students coming from other cities in Rawalpindi.
In all, over 500 students have departed in these two days but still, 400-500 are on the waiting list, Mr Wazir said.
“Our team in Karachi also requested us to arrange another bus for the students of Karachi on 20th March, they are coming on Wednesday,” he added.
Force Commander (FCNA) Gilgit-Baltistan will also arrange two buses free of cost on Wednesday through GB Awareness Forum.