The Union government is drawing up a major evacuation plan involving the Navy, the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Air India to bring back Indians stranded in West Asia following the nationwide lockdown and travel restrictions due to COVID-19, multiple defence sources said.
“A major evacuation plan is under discussion with the Ministry of External Affairs being the lead ministry. When, where and how many and factors like who is to be evacuated and so on are under deliberation,” a defence source told The Hindu . The tentative window for evacuation has not been decided yet but it is expected to be after the lockdown ends on May 3.
Defence sources confirmed that Navy and IAF had been asked to work out the modalities from their end and accordingly preparations were on. “An exercise of aircraft availability was done to have a picture about capability, turn around time, sortie generation possibility and so on,” a second source said, adding there was no tasking yet.
The IAF has a fleet of US origin C-130 Hercules medium transporters and C-17 Globemaster heavy transport aircraft, in addition to older Russian IL-76 aircraft, which have been playing a major role in recent Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) efforts.
Also read: Most COVID-19 positive Indians abroad are in the Gulf
Naval ships need enough time to sail from their home ports with requisite preparations to handle civilians. “The nation lockdown ends on May 3. So there is reaction time and there is also lot of administrative and logistical issues to be worked out,” another defence source said on this.
As reported by The Hindu last week, with lockdown close to ending Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba held a meeting of all nodal ministries , including Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and all chief secretaries of states and Union territories and took stock of preparations in various States, most notably Kerala, for the return of an estimated 2,00,000 expatriates and other travellers.
There are more than eight million Indians who live and work in the Gulf region and with plummeting oil prices there have been concerns of massive job losses.
It is not yet clear as to which mode of evacuation would be preferred which multiple sources said is yet to worked out.