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Air India, Navy launch first phase of operation to extricate Indians

Two ships sent to the Maldives under ‘Operation Samudra Setu’

Air India, Navy launch first phase of operation to extricate Indians

Image only for representational purposes

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 5

Air India will operate 64 international flights from May 7 to May 13 to bring back some of the stranded Indians from a dozen countries, including the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Singapore the US and the UK.

Passengers will have to pay for their tickets which, as per initial announcements, from Indian missions in two countries, are at least 25 per cent higher than the normal fare. The government had also pegged the rail fare for migrants on the higher side to account for empty berths due to social distancing and the empty return of the train.

However, unlike the trains, some of the flights will not go empty and may carry those who are in India but have long-term visas and work opportunities outside and want to return. Last time, Air India and the Indian Air Force had not charged passengers for extricating them from China and Japan.

A passenger on the London-Delhi flight would be charged Rs 50,000 while a passenger on the Dhaka-Delhi flight would Rs 12,000, the Aviation Minister said.

On arrival from abroad, all passengers would be screened and put under quarantine for a period of 14 days as a COVID-19 precautionary measure, Puri added.

Making the announcement, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri held out the hope of private airlines joining in the extraction of Indians stranded in several other countries.

The Civil Aviation Minister’s hint about involving private airlines will not just lift the spirits of stranded Indians, but also provide business to them. All domestic airlines have shelved operations since March 25 leading to losses worth several crores.

If the world-wide lockdown on international flights continues, India may have to mount several hundred flights to evacuate just the most distressed of its nationals.

For comparison, the UK, a much smaller country, has evacuated its nationals from India in an almost equal number of flights.

The first phase of the evacuation in most countries will give priority to the elderly, pregnant women, patients with urgent medical cases and those facing bereavement in India.

The initiative is being coordinated by the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home Affairs and Health besides various other agencies of the Government of India and State governments. The MEA will appoint senior nodal officers for all states. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla will hold a video conference with state Chief Secretaries to firm up the subsequent arrangements.

The Indian Navy has launched ‘Operation Samudra Setu’ by sending two ships to the Maldives to bring back some of the emergency cases under Phase I. On their return, both ships will dock at Kochi and the returnees will be entrusted to the state government.

(With inputs from PTI)

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