The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Wednesday told the Madras High Court that it had received 4,87,303 requests from Indians stranded abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate their return to various States across the country under the Vande Bharat Mission and Operation Samudra Setu.
The MEA also informed the court that 2,63,187 of them had been repatriated.
Justices R. Subbiah and Krishnan Ramasamy were informed that flights were currently being operated under Phase III of the Vande Bharat Mission, and that 2,24,116 repatriation requests were pending as of Monday, when Vinesh Kumar Kalra, deputy secretary, MEA, had signed a counter-affidavit in response to a public interest litigation petition filed by the DMK.
Appearing for the party, senior counsel P. Wilson said that of the 45,242 Indian nationals spread across the world who had requested the government to facilitate their return to Tamil Nadu, only 17,701 had been brought back so far. Stating that the party had received several distress calls, he insisted on the repatriation of all Tamils who wanted to return.
In his reply, Additional Solicitor General G. Rajagopalan urged the court to take note of the fact that none of the affected persons had approached the court, and that the present case had been filed only by a political party. The Central government’s senior panel counsel, K. Venkataswamy Babu, said that over 50 flights had been operated to Tamil Nadu so far, with 29 more in store.
The MEA, in its counter, said that the list of requests received for repatriation was dynamic in nature, since additions and deletions were being continuously made on account of new requests and the disinclination shown by some to fly back after registering their requests. After registration, “not all of them have finally opted for coming back to India”, the counter read.
It was also pointed out to the court that some Tamils might have chosen to fly to other States in the country, and then travel by domestic flights, rail or road to their hometowns. Further, in addition to the Vande Bharat Mission, several other chartered flights were also being operated. “Some countries have also sent flights with Indian deportees,” the counter said.
Further, the court was given the assurance that Indian Missions abroad had set up dedicated helplines, and were using them extensively to help stranded Indian nationals. Nodal officers had been designated at each of the Missions to provide assistance, the court was told. The 24x7 helpline numbers and e-mail IDs had been publicised through social networking sites and government websites, the court was told.
“Indian Missions abroad have also been providing food, accommodation, etc. to the stranded Indians and guiding them on the restrictions being imposed and advisories being issued by the local governments of those countries. It is therefore prayed that this honourable court may be pleased to dismiss this writ petition as it is devoid of merit, and thus render justice,” the counter read.
After taking the counter on file, the judges adjourned the case to Monday for further hearing.