The Central Government has informed the Supreme Court about its position regarding the evacuation of Indian citizens from foreign countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic, reported LiveLaw.in.
The Ministry of External Affairs has taken the stand that bringing back Indians from COVID-19 infected countries poses a grave risk to the local population, especially in view of the limited nature of resources available, which makes enforcement of quarantine measures difficult, said the report.
“Some of these countries have reported a very large number of cases including deaths, putting passengers from these countries particularly at higher risk of infection. Travel back of such passengers to different regions of India poses a grave risk to the country of a population of over 1.3 billion”.
“It is true that the GoI initially undertook some evacuation operations of Indian nationals as also nationals of other countries from China, Japan, Iran and Italy when the situation of CORONA virus situation in India was not so grim. Many of the persons evacuated from these countries were then brought and subjected to quarantine in India. However, given the present situation of the coronavirus outbreak in India and the available limited resources, it is not feasible to selectively evacuate Indian citizens from abroad when a large number of them from a number of countries want to return back due to various reasons”, said the statement filed by the Centre in reply to a petition filed for the evacuation of Indian students from the United Kingdom.
“The severe risk posed by arrivals from an increasing number of countries affected by COVID-19 is something that the Government is seeking to minimize. The approach of the Government has, therefore, been to advise the Indian nationals to stay put where they are in line with Government’s approach to contain the further spread of the virus within India and allowing health machinery to focus on domestic containment effectively”, the Centre added.
The Centre further told that various High Courts, while hearing similar pleas, have acknowledged that due to the lockdown situations prevailing both in India as well as other countries it will not be possible to repatriate Indian nationals at this stage.
The Centre also explained the measures adopted by it to ensure the welfare of Indian citizens stranded abroad.
- A COVID-19 Cell has been formed in the Ministry of External Affairs and to ensure greater access and precision of information; sub-groups dealing with different regions of the world have also been created. Missions /Posts abroad have been advised to set up dedicated helpline numbers and publicize them extensively to assist stranded Indians.
- Nodal officers have been identified and designated at each Mission/Post to provide assistance to Indian nationals abroad and 24*7 helpline numbers and emails have also been made functional for this purpose. These helpline numbers and email ids are being widely publicized through social networking sites, official government website etc.
- Wherever there are a large number of Indian students studying in that country, the Missions were stated to be in constant touch with their Universities/educational institutions for rendering assistance to those students.
- Wherever possible, the Ambassadors are interacting with the Indian community through virtual platforms for their engagement in this time of crisis and to provide them assistance.
- Wherever possible, missions are also providing food, accommodation etc. to the stranded Indian students.
- Wherever there is a concern of expiration of visas of such Indian nationals in those countries, the foreign governments on the request of the missions/posts have extended the visas of such Indian nationals.
About Indian students in UK
The Centre told the Court that there are about 400,000 Indian nationals, including about 50,000 students are in the UK.
It was submitted that the situation of Indian students there was safe and secure, in view of several measures adopted by the UK government.
Most of the Indian citizens in UK, including students, have regular accommodation provided by either their educational institutions, companies for which they are working, privately rented or other types.
The UK Parliament has also enacted the UK Coronavirus Act 2020, which protects lessees from threat of eviction, and also excuses them from payment of rent.
Only in some cases Indian students are said to have vacated their hostels or rented accommodations. In such cases, the High Commission of India, London and Indian Consulates have arranged accommodation and food at highly subsidised rates.
The Court was also told that the UK Government has extended those visas which got expired till May 31, 2020, after the issue was raised by the Indian High Commission.
“The High Commission is working with organizations, community support groups and individuals across UK so that stranded Indian citizens could be reached and assisted as possible. There are community associations, which are helping stranded Indians. Details of such associations, organizations, community support groups and individuals are on our social media platforms as well as on Mission’s website. These details are being continuously updated”, the Centre apprised the Court.
While hearing this petition filed by Madhurima Mridul on Monday, a bench headed by CJI S A Bobde observed that person stranded from abroad cannot be brought back to India right now.
“Stay where you are,” LiveLaw.in quoted the CJI as having said.