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MEA holds flurry of meetings on 'Vande Bharat' mission

File Photo: Thermal screening of US nationals being conducted in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, at Hyderabad International Aiport. (PTI)Premium
File Photo: Thermal screening of US nationals being conducted in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, at Hyderabad International Aiport. (PTI)

  • About 15,000 Indians from 13 countries will be brought back by 64 flights in the first week of the mission codenamed 'Vande Bharat'
  • A total of 300,000 Indians from the Gulf countries alone have registered for help from the government to bring them back

NEW DELHI : Ahead of the arrival on Thursday of a first lot of 15,000 Indians, stranded abroad due to the halt of flights worldwide after the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Indian foreign ministry on Wednesday held a meeting with officials of key states to review plans and arrangements for the returnees.

The meeting was chaired by foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and chief secretaries of states like Maharashtra, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh besides others attended the virtual deliberations. These are the states where the maximum numbers of those coming back are from or reside, two people familiar with the matter said.

About 15,000 Indians from 13 countries will be brought back by 64 flights in the first week of the mission codenamed “Vande Bharat" -- seen as the largest exercise to bring back Indian citizens since the evacuation of 177,000 from the Gulf region in the early 1990s at the start of hostilities between Iraq and Kuwait during the first Gulf War.

A total of 300,000 Indians from the Gulf countries alone have registered for help from the government to bring them back. According to the Indian government, flights will also be sent to countries like the US and the UK to being back Indian nationals. In addition Indian naval ships have also been pressed into service to bring back Indian stranded in the Maldives and the Gulf region.

The “Vande Bharat" mission would however give priority to Indian citizens with “compelling reasons to return" – like those whose employments have been terminated, those whose visas have expired with no hope of them getting renewed under the present circumstances and those who have lost family members in recent times. All those who return will be compulsorily quarantined, the government has said.

According to one of the people cited above, Wednesday’s stock taking meeting that reviewed and discussed logistics details and arrangements for the returnees “was very positive" with all states displaying a “very cooperative" attitude, the person cited above said. While some states sought more time to shelter the new arrivals, other like Bihar outlined plans to create a quarantine centre in Bodhgaya that would house the returnees, the first person cited above said. Uttar Pradesh for example had questions about setting quarantine facilities for those returning from Nepal. Then there were questions about where the flights coming in would land at international airports or domestic ones too that were nearer the homes of the people coming back, the person said adding that this questions came from officials representing Punjab.

The foreign ministry also agreed to share a full database of details pertaining to the returnees that would include detailed addresses, the person cited above said. The ministry has also announced a group of senior officials of the rank of joint secretary and additional secretary to coordinate with states. P Harish, additional secretary in the ministry is in charge of coordinating with Andhra Pradesh while Vikram Doraiswami, also additional secretary will be coordinating with the government of Kerala and additional secretary Dinesh Pattnaik will be the points person to coordinate with the government of Gujarat.

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