Parliament Proceedings | Government to expand air bubble option with more countries: Jaishankar

Carried out largest repatriation exercise during pandemic, says External Affairs Minister

Updated - March 15, 2021 10:18 pm IST

Published - March 15, 2021 05:37 pm IST - NEW DELHI

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in the Lok Sabha on March 15, 2021.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in the Lok Sabha on March 15, 2021.

External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar on Monday told the Rajya Sabha that the government wanted to expand the “air bubble” arrangement with more countries and the priority would be Saudi Arabia, Kuwait in the west and Japan, China and Singapore in the east.

“These are the countries where bubbles have not worked so well,” Mr. Jaishankar told the Rajya Sabha.

Under the air bubble scheme, commercial airlines from specific countries are allowed to travel to and from India on a limited basis — an arrangement that was solely reserved for the Air India under the Vande Bharat mission — as full scale international commercial air operations are yet to resume after COVID-19 restrictions were implemented last year.


The Minister made these remarks while informing both Houses of Parliament about the Narendra Modi government’s efforts in repatriating Indians, Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) during the corona pandemic.


Calling it as the world’s biggest repatriation exercise that saw over 4.5 million people return home under the Vande Bharat Mission, Mr. Jaishankar said the focus has now shifted to Indians going back to their usual places of work, study and domicile and restoring employment opportunities abroad with the help of partner countries.


He said so far, air transport bubble arrangements have been concluded with 27 countries.


The Minister said India is fully aware of the employment concerns of people working abroad and expects Gulf countries to facilitate the early return of those people who were compelled to return home due to the pandemic.


“From our recent interactions, we have reason to expect that partner governments in the Gulf would be helpful in facilitating the early return of many who were compelled to go back because of the pandemic,” he told the Lok Sabha.


In the Rajya Sabha, Opposition members sought to know the government’s plan for the rehabilitation of displaced workers and claimed that many of them were on the verge of starvation.


“There will be a situation where people will not go back or will delay going back. We prioritised and started a skill mapping programme, Swadesh, of workers returning from the Gulf. We expect the State governments and employers to use that data. As far as employment opportunity is concerned we expect a very good recovery of the economy,” the Minister replied.


He said the other challenge was students in foreign universities. “Some universities have permitted the students to return, others continue online education. Our endeavour is to ensure that they do not lose an academic year and make sure that they get back as soon as possible,” he said.


In the Lower House, the Minister said the repatriation exercise was a measure of India’s diplomatic success as partners governments worked together after the Prime Minister personally took initiative to reach out.


Mr Jaishankar also mentioned the problems faced by sea-farers, especially two Indian crews stranded in Chinese ports and fishermen in Iran.


“Members would also recall the predicament of two crews who were in particular difficulty outside Chinese ports. Their situation was also eventually resolved through great perseverance. We continue to interact with many governments to devise more friendly SOPs for crew change requirements,” he said.

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