Indian workers and students stranded abroad amidst the Covid pandemic heaved a sigh of relief this week as the government announced a plan to bring them back. The home ministry said that beginning May 7, they could return via special Air India flights, for a fee.
The ‘Vande Bharat’mission will run for a week, with 64 flights slated to bring 14,800 citizens back from 12 countries. These are the UAE , US , UK, Singapore, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Philippines, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. Indians wanting to avail of the service must undergo a COVID -19 rapid diagnostic test.
The home ministry will take a final call on the list of returnees. The ministry has released guidelines on who gets preference for travel, blue-collar workers, migrant labourers, women, children, senior citizens and those at risk of losing their visas.
Most of the Indians will fly in from the UAE, 10 flights have been scheduled for this country. There will be seven flights each from the US , Bangladesh and Malaysia.
Five flights each are scheduled from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Philippines. The remaining countries will have two flights each.
Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Delhi are expecting the highest number of returnees during the first phase of the repatriation programme.
An estimated 1.7 million migrant Indians are stranded across the globe at present. The armed forces have also been working on a plan to bring citizens home by ship. Two Indian Navy ships have set sail to bring 1,000 Indians home from the Maldives. They will arrive in Kochi.
Upon reaching India, all returnees will be quarantined for 14 days. Home ministry guidelines released on May 5 clarify that the returnees will bear the cost of their quarantine. This issue of paying at every step has become a controversy.
Last month, when Air India briefly opened international bookings, many Indian students in the US complained that the airline was charging them a fee to reschedule flights to June. Now, all those wishing to return from the US have to pay Rs 1 lakh for a one-way flight.
Those coming from the UK will have to buy tickets costing Rs 50,000 while tickets for Indians returning from the Gulf countries will be around Rs 15,000.