The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Friday informed the Delhi High Court that in a “lockdown situation”, it is “not possible for this Ministry to organize any evacuation of Indian nationals from Bangladesh or any other country”.
“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. Indian Missions abroad have been asked to extend help and facilitation to stranded Indian nationals to the extent possible,” a bench of Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva and Justice Navin Chawla was told.
“The measures taken by the Government of India (GOI) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has progressively increased since late January 2020 culminating in the total lockdown announced by the government on March 23.
“This includes stoppage of all international movements (came into effect earlier) and domestic as well as intra-city movements except in case of essential services. In addition, the government of Bangladesh has also announced lockdown from March 26 till April 4, thereby restricting any movements within and out of Bangladesh for the time being,” the MEA affidavit said.
It said, “In such a lockdown situation both in India as well as in Bangladesh, it is not possible for this Ministry to organize any evacuation of Indian nationals from Bangladesh or any other countries.
“The approach of this Ministry has, therefore, been to advise the Indian nationals to stay put where they are in line with Government of India’s approach to contain the spread of the virus within Indian and allowing health machinery to focus domestic containment”.
Central Government Standing Counsel Jasmeet Singh, apprised the bench that “a COVID-19 cell has been formed in the MEA and to ensure greater access and precision of information, sub-groups dealing with different regions of the world has also been created…”
The Ministry’s response came in the backdrop of a PIL by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal, who has sought direction to the MEA to evacuate Indian medical students who are stranded in Bangladesh.
The ministry in its affidavit said, “Missions/Posts abroad have been advised to setup dedicated helpline numbers and publicize them extensively to assist stranded Indians. The MEA has already established a functional helpline for coordination on COVID-19, which has been functioning 24×7 at South Block.”
It stated that, “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…”.
The affidavit said that the “GOI has undertaken evacuation operations in four countries – China, Japan, Iran and Italy – from February 1 till March 15 and has evacuated a total of 1698 persons. Many persons evacuated from these countries have been subjected to quarantine in India. Further, it is informed that there are limited quarantine facilities available in India at present.”
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