“We did not see this coming”: Stranded people

Yangyel Lhaden 

Thimphu dzongkhag faced myriad challenges, the biggest one was facilitating the movement of stranded people.

Thimphu dzongkhag’s standard operating procedure (SOP), drawn for the lockdown, said one thing but the ground reality was another. The SOP did not include cases and services to the  stranded in the dzongkhag.

Thimphu Dzongdag, Dorji Tshering, said that the biggest problem the dzongkhag faced was with stranded people and vehicle.

“We did not see this coming,” he said.

With no solution at hand to address this issue, the team came up with an online registration system on Facebook on August 14.

Thimphu’s Chief Education Officer, Tashi Namgyal, said that officials received more than 180 calls a day.

He said that with no established system “it drove the team mad”.

The registration of stranded people was done through phone calls and movement permit was issued through WhatsApp. And the national task force made movement cards to be issued for various reasons such as moving out of dzongkhag, within dzongkhag, and for death.

On the first few day of the lockdown, ministries, agencies and offices issued their own movement cards and thousands of vehicles were moving. People and offices were confused about whom to approach for the card.

Tashi Namgyal said that his team did not have the capacity to find out whether the issues were genuine. They were only facilitating the movement of people who claimed they were stranded. Some people who did not register also tried to move out of the dzongkhag when they were caught in the check post. “This further aggravated the issue.”

After three days, the online registration form was discontinued because it allowed a person to register more than once, creating more confusion. “We also thought stranded people would have completed registering,” he said.

Tashi Namgyal said that they were learning every day and reinforcing the resources wherever needed. “As we got better, the relaxation of lockdown happened.”

The lack of coordination among relevant agencies was a big challenge and the people were bombarded with too much information.

“The services provided by dzongkhag, thromde, national task force and other agencies overlapped. Some services were delegated to a particular agency. For example, only the dzongkhag administration was authorised to facilitate movement of stranded people.

“There was no central agency directing relevant organisations on their roles, and information kept changing,”   Tashi Namgyal said.

A stranded person took seven days to get in touch with the person-in-charge of facilitating the movement of stranded people in the dzongkhag.

“If there was clear information that dzongkhag is responsible for stranded people it would have eased the service delivery.” After he called, he moved out of Thimphu within 30 minutes, he added.

Given the mounting pressure, the team attending to the calls was increased to twelve. Members from the police helped in screening those who registered to move out of the dzongkhag.

The team facilitated the movement of 8,182 stranded people and 3,098 vehicles during the lockdown.

Way forward

The dzongkhag is preparing a new SOP based on all the challenges and lessons learnt during the lockdown with feedback from gups, dzongkhag officials and relevant agencies. There will be a separate SOP for the stranded vehicle and people.

The new SOP is based on experiences during the lockdown which would be practical and more organised, Tashi Namgyal said.

Dzongdag Dorji Tshering said: “We are working on how various organisations providing services can collaborate during the lockdown to avoid confusion.”

The dzongkhag will place at least 25 people at its call centre with information management system database which would link relevant agencies required to address the issue. 

For example, when details of a stranded person are punched in the system by a call recipient, it will be simultaneously shared with the relevant persons.

“If another lockdown happens we’re more prepared. It’d be better than the first one,” Tashi Namgyel said.

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