The Centre on Thursday started an evacuation drive to bring stranded Indians back to the country with Air India operating nearly 70 special flights from across the world and several Indian cities. Calcutta, however, is not on the list in the first phase.
Several Calcuttans stuck in other countries said they were desperate to return but did not want to fly back to other cities like Mumbai and Delhi and get quarantined there for at least 14 days. There will be domestic flights connecting Indian cities, too, but Calcutta does not figure on that list either, airline officials said.
Priority has been given to states with better quarantine facilities, a civil aviation ministry official said.
A senior state official said cities with more stranded people were on the first list.
“Individuals stuck in these countries have to register themselves with the Indian embassies there and the external affairs ministry has made a list of evacuees based on these applications. Flights have been scheduled to Indian cities with greater demand,” the Bengal official said on Thursday. “If Calcutta has enough demands from people stuck in a particular country, the external affairs ministry will designate a flight here as well.”
The Centre had asked the Bengal government if there are enough quarantine facilities in the city to accommodate those who return. “We said we do. If required, we can create quarantine facilities for these passengers. That is not a problem,” the official said on Thursday night.
Park Street resident Sonal Kapoor is stuck in Abu Dhabi with her visa cancelled. She had gone to Dubai in November on a six-month internship with a market research firm.
“After the outbreak of Covid-19, I knew the lockdown would be in place for some time and so I informed the company that I would not continue with the internship. In keeping with the rules, I applied for cancellation of my visa on March 22 and on March 25, it was cancelled by the Dubai authorities,” Sonal said on Thursday from Abu Dhabi.
But she has been stuck at a relative's place in Abu Dhabi since. “I have enrolled myself with the Indian embassy here and am awaiting their reply,” she said. “I had to mention the nearest airport in the form, which in my case is Calcutta. I don't want to land in Mumbai and get quarantined there.”
Vikram Tejwani, a Calcuttan studying biotechnology at Leeds University in the UK, was to come home for Easter.
“Now, we have been told people in distress like those whose visas have expired, pregnant women and the elderly will get priority,” he said.
Air India officials said nearly 70 flights were being operated between May 7 and 15, bringing nearly 20,000 people from the US, UK, UAE, Bangladesh, Singapore and other countries. They would be connecting to cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Calicut, Bangalore, Hyderabad.
“The evacuation was planned and the destinations chosen by the government. Air India had no role,” said an Air India official. The airline is charging anything between Rs 15,000 and Rs 1 lakh.