In one of the largest evacuation exercises since the 1990 Kuwait airlift, the government will operate 64 flights from May 7 to 13 to bring home thousands of Indian nationals stranded abroad due to the coronavirus lockdown. Named “Vande Bharat Mission”, Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar said on Tuesday that preparations for the operation had commenced and urged the stranded individuals to stay in touch with the Indian embassies in their respective countries.
Under the repatriation plan, the government will be facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner. All international flights have been grounded since mid-March.
Moreover, the Indian Navy has launched Operation “Samudra Setu” (sea bridge) to repatriate Indian citizens from overseas. Naval ships Jalashwa and Magar are enroute to the port of Male to evacuate people from May 8. The government said only those who test Covid-19 negative would be allowed to travel.
‘Vande Bharat Mission’ will see the operation of 64 flights from May 7 to May 13 to bring back around 15,000 Indian nationals stranded abroad amid the Covid-19 lockdown. Once completed, it may turn out to be the largest evacuation operation ever since the 1990 airlift of 1.7 lakh people from Kuwait.
Commenced preparations for Vande Bharat Mission. Planning underway for stranded Indian nationals to return home starting 7th May. Urge them to keep in regular touch with their Embassies. pic.twitter.com/uFtNijO3DO
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) May 5, 2020
India will operate 10 flights to the UAE, seven flights each to the US and the UK, five flights to Saudi Arabia, five flights to Singapore and two flights to Qatar to repatriate Indian nationals between May 7 and May 13. During this period, India will also operate seven flights each to Malaysia and Bangladesh, five flights each to Kuwait and Philippines, two flights each to Oman and Bahrain.’
The maximum number of flights (15) will be sent from Kerala, 11 each for Delhi-NCR and Tamil Nadu, seven for Maharashtra and Telangana, five for Gujarat, three each for Jammu and Kashmir and Karnataka and one each for Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Approximately, 2,000 people from abroad will fly back to India daily.
National carrier Air India and its subidiary Air India Express will operate 64 flights for seven days, between May 7 to May 13 to carry out the evacuation, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said. Around seven special Air India flights are being scheduled from London Heathrow Airport to Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Bengaluru starting Thursday.
“Those arriving by repatriation flights will be screened, put under 14-day quarantine. Out of the 64 flights to bring back stranded Indians from abroad, 11 from nine countries will land in Tamil Nadu,” news agency PTI quoted Puri as saying.
In an order, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said priority will be given for return to India to compelling cases in distress, including migrant workers, labourers who have been laid off and those faced with expiry of short term visas. Persons with medical emergency, pregnant women, elderly, those required to return to India due to death of family member, and students would also be given preference, the home ministry said.
Passengers will be charged Rs 50,000 each for London-Delhi/Mumbai/Ahmedabad/Bangalore flights and Rs 12,000 for Dhaka-Delhi flight. Passengers being repatriated from the US will be charged Rs 1 lakh, while those from Dubai will have to shell out Rs 13,000. The MEA will give travellers two days notice with the schedule (day, place and time of arrival) of the incoming flight on its website.
Air tickets will only be issued to those on the passenger lists prepared by the Embassy or Consulate, the statement said. Moreover, medical screening of passengers would be done before taking the flight. Only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel.
Punya Salila Srivastava, a joint secretary in the Union Home Ministry, stated that the stranded Indians who would be brought back by special flights from abroad would have to download “Aarogya Setu” mobile app and follow all the government-issued health guidelines.
The statement further said that the passengers will be medically screened before taking the flight. Only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to travel. During the journey, all passengers will have to follow protocols issued by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The passengers will also have to sign an undertaking to go into a 14-day quarantine on arrival in India.
Apart from the flights, the Indian Navy launched ‘Operation Samudra Setu’ (Sea Bridge) as a part of national effort to repatriate Indian citizens from overseas. “Indian Naval Ships Jalashwa and Magar are presently enroute to the port of Malè, Republic of Maldives to commence evacuation operations from 08 May 2020 as part of Phase-1,” the Navy statement said.
The statement added that the Indian mission in Maldives was preparing a list of Indian nationals to be evacuated by Naval ships and would facilitate their repatriation after requisite medical screening. “A total of 1000 persons are planned to be evacuated during the first trip, catering for COVID-related social distancing norms vis-a-vis the carrying capacity and medical facilities available onboard,” it said.
“The evacuated personnel will be disembarked at Kochi, Kerala and entrusted to the care of State authorities,” it added. This operation is being being coordinated between the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home Affairs, Health and various other agencies of the Government of India and State governments.
In Kochi, a defence ministry spokesperson told PTI on Tuesday that a naval ship has been sent to Dubai. The INS Shardul was diverted to Dubai to evacuate the expatriates and it will return to Kochi, he said.