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Call to pick ports in Bengal for expats

About 14,000 people from state stuck in different countries since international flights were suspended
Planes stand parked at Kochi airport during the ongoing Covid-19 nationwide lockdown, in Kochi, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. NRIs stranded in various countries due to coronavirus lockdown are expected to arrive tomorrow onwards.

Pranesh Sarkar   |   Calcutta   |   Published 09.05.20, 12:20 AM

The Centre has asked the Bengal government to identify an airport and a seaport in the state where its people stuck in different countries could be brought over the next few days.

The evacuation will be part of the Vande Bharat mission under which Indians stranded abroad because of the Covid-19 outbreak and resultant cancellation of flights are brought back home.

“Yes, the Centre has asked us to identify where the Indian expats should be sent in the state… The state government is yet to frame a policy on the stranded people stuck in foreign countries and hence, there hasn’t been any response from Nabanna,” said a senior government official.

Sources said the Ministry of external affairs had sent the letter before the Centre had launched the drive on Thursday. The state was informed that 14,800 Indians stuck in different countries would be brought back home initially under the Vande Bharat mission.

Air India would operate special flights from New Delhi, Cochin and Kozhikode to Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, respectively, as a part of Vande Bharat Mission. Besides, Indian Navy would operate ships to rescue Indians stuck in the Maldives.

“The indecision by the state government is likely to delay the homecoming of people from the state stuck in different parts of the globe as Delhi’s efforts are linked to what the state has to say,” said a senior government official.

Later in the day, a source said: “The state government has sought some clarifications from the Centre on the mission... A reply would be given after we get the answers to our queries from Delhi.”

Sources said about 14,000 people from Bengal were stuck in different countries since operation of international flights was suspended in the last week of Mach.

“There is every chance that people from Bengal could return by special flights as they would bring beck people from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Riyadh, Doha and Dhaka, where many from Bengal are stuck… But the question is what will happen after they land in airports in other parts of the country as domestic flights are not operating,” said another official.

A section of officials at Nabanna said the Bengal government machinery was busy making arrangements for bringing in people stuck in other parts of India. They said once the state made required arrangements for migrant labourers or people stuck in tough terrains of other states, Nabanna could focus on the people stranded in foreign countries.

The state has already brought back nearly 10,000 people and in the next few days, we could bring in another 10,000 people from Vellore in Tamil Nadu, Hrishikesh in Uttarakhand, Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh and Manali in Himachal Pradesh.

“We have around 2.5 lakh people stuck in different states. Primarily, the policy is that people who are in dire need would be given the priority for return. … For example, about 3,000 people in Vellore who went for treatment are in trouble and that is why they are on the priority list for bringing them back,” said an official.

Another section of officials said the state government was laying stress on bringing back people from the areas which were relatively safe in terms of Covid-19 infection.

“This is the reason why the state was not in a hurry to bring back people from Mumbai, Delhi and Gujarat at this point of time,” said a source.

“Given the spread of Covid-19 in many countries outside India, the state might adopt a go-slow policy on bringing back people from other countries.”


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