While India is still in the stage of development, Indians have globalized much earlier. This is noticed through a considerable distribution of Indians, approximately 17.5 million throughout the world. Indian migration is steered mainly by economic and educational reasons. However, with the borders being shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, a sense of exigency has been created amongst Indians to return home safely and quickly. The flow of Indians around the world is reversing with negative consequences in terms of greater unemployment, disturbance in the economy, disruption of lives, etc. The situation has aggravated to a stage where Indians abroad are losing their jobs. Further with the increase in flight prices, and mandatory institutional quarantine for returnees, it seems like a tough call for the migrants to make.
The exercise known as ‘Vande Bharat Mission’, operating to bring back 15,000 Indians stranded abroad through 64 Air India flights amid the lockdown was announced by Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri. Taking into the account the limited seats on the flight, The Indian Embassy in its advisory stated that, passengers with grave medical disabilities, those requiring to go back due to demise in the family, students, pregnant women, elderly or those facing expiry of visas shall be prioritized. Further, identification shall be made through an electronic random selection method. The media advisory has mandated all passengers to undergo medical screening, of which only the asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to travel. Upon arrival in India, passengers must undergo another medical screening followed with downloading and registering themselves on Aarogya Setu application on their smartphones. Post reaching their respective states, passengers must undergo mandatory 14 day institutional quarantine as per the protocols framed by the Government. The visas for all foreign nationals and OCI cardholders, who are not in India shall remain suspended till the ban on international migration is in place. However, visa extension can be applied by the foreign nationals within the countries, without any additional fee whose visa has expired, thereby barring them from travelling abroad. The stranded Indians include tourists, business travellers, people on family visits, professionals whose Employment Pass have expired and their family members, students who have finished their courses or have to pursue them online or are no longer in a position to sustain themselves here.
May 7th marked the beginning of evacuation of Indian nationals stranded abroad in different nations, due to the lockdown imposed to contain the deadly pandemic. During the first phase which was for a period of one week, 64 flights operated from various countries like the United States and United Kingdom, which were the most affected internationally. The Ministry of Health Affairs has stated that the cases with greater vulnerability were prioritized for booking on to these flights. The flight prices were to be paid by the passengers along with an undertaking that they will undergo mandatory 14 day institutional quarantine upon arrival. The Ministry also held : "Government of India will be facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner. The travel would be arranged by aircraft and naval ships. The Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) has been prepared in this regard.” The 64 flights in the first week included ten from UAE, two from Qatar, five from Saudi Arabia, seven from the United Kingdom, five from Singapore, seven from the United States, five from the Philippines, seven from Bangladesh, two from Bahrain, seven from Malaysia, five from Kuwait and two from Oman.
The rates fixed for the journey is around Rs 50,000 for London-Mumbai, similarly for London to Ahmedabad, London to Bengaluru and London to Delhi. A ticket for Chicago-Delhi-Hyderabad flight will cost about Rs 1 lakh. Cost of ticket from other cities is as follows: Dhaka to Delhi - Rs 12,000; Dhaka to Srinagar - Rs 12,000; Dubai to Delhi - Rs 13,000; Dubai to Amritsar - Rs 13,000; Abu Dhabi to Hyderabad - Rs 15,000; Jeddah to Delhi - Rs 25,000; Kuwait to Hyderabad - Rs 20,000; Kuwait to Ahmedabad - Rs 14,000; Singapore to Delhi - Rs 20,000; Manila to Delhi - Rs 30,000. State governments are being advised to make arrangements, including for testing, quarantine and onward movement of the returning Indians to their respective states.
The Honourable Supreme Court led by a 3 judge bench comprising of Chief Justice SA Bobde, AS Boppanna and Hrishikesh Roy in its recent judgement dated May 25th, 2020, granted national carrier Air India, the permission to operate non-scheduled international flights with middle seat occupied till June 6 and stated that the government should be more worried about the health of citizens rather than the health of the commercial airlines. The apex court was hearing pleas by the Centre and Air India against a Bombay High Court order pertaining to circulars on the middle seats in flights issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. This decision was made in the light of an Air India pilot challenging the national airline’s initial decision not to keep a seat between two passengers vacant for emergency flights that were arranged to bring back stranded Indians from abroad through the Centre’s Vande Bharat Mission, and stated that it was in violation of the March 23 circular issued by the DGCA.
The government is taking immediate relief measures to evacuate lakhs of Indians abroad. However certain backlash has been received in the protocol pertaining to mandatory paid institutional quarantine for a week, the reason being poor institutional quarantine facilities, that are expressed as unhygienic, expensive and not catering to emergency situations like bereavement of a family member.
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