Over 190,000 Indians will be brought home: Civil aviation minister to Wion

WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Sonal GeraUpdated: May 08, 2020, 07:20 PM IST


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India's Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, in an exclusive converation with Wion, said the ministry has so far drawn up the programme for only a week, and the further details shall soon be shared.

Air India, under the Vande Bharat mission, has been assigned to operate 64 flights from May 7 to May 13 to bring back as many as 14,800 Indian nationals stranded abroad amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown. To this end, India's Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has termed this operation as the "largest evacuation programme undertaken by any government using civil aviation assets in decades."

Puri, in an exclusive conversation with Wion, said the ministry has so far drawn up the programme for only a week, and the further details shall soon be shared.

"This is the largest evacuation programme undertaken by any government using civil aviation assets in decades. We had earlier presumed that the number of people wanting to come back home would be 190,000. But as we started off with the programme, we realised this was on the conservative side," Puri said.

He added, "We have so far drawn up the programme for the first week, that is starting from May 7 till 14. In this phase, we plan to bring home about 14,800 Indians stranded in 12 countries through 64 flights.

"But as I said the number is on the conservative side, this may increase as we go forward."

These 64 flights would be conducted by Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express to repatriate Indians from 12 countries such as the UAE, the UK, the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

India will conduct 10 flights to the UAE, seven flights each to the US and the UK, five flights to Saudi Arabia, five flights to Singapore and two flights to Qatar to repatriate Indian nationals between May 7 and May 13.

During this time period, India will also conduct seven flights each to Malaysia and Bangladesh, five flights each to Kuwait and Philippines, two flights each to Oman and Bahrain, Puri had earlier announced.

Private airlines may be roped in if need arises, he said.

On arrival from abroad, all passengers will be screened and put under quarantine for a period of 14 days as a COVID-19 precautionary measure.

"The challenge is not that the flights are arranged, but that the measures are properly executed. The passengers shall be tested when they board the plane and when they disembark it," he said, adding, "most importantly, at the point of disembarkation, there are arrangements of quarantining all passengers for a mandatory period of a fortnight."

The airports are fully geared to ensure the social distancing guidelines, he said.

When asked about the economic downturn, Puri said this was not a civil aviation industry-specific issue.

"Airlines are not operating. Airports are also not being run; so there's no revenue. Then there are tour operators and hotels that are also not getting their commission. So in short, it's not a civil aviation industry-specific issue. It's a larger issue; a multi-layered intertwined job. And we have to ensure that we try and resume the economic activity as soon as possible to benefit every industry," he said.

About a stimulus package, Puri said, "The finance minister and her team will have to assess the demands and necessities of every industry, and accordingly prioritise in consultation with the prime minister."

The aviation sector has been hit hard due to the suspension of all scheduled commercial passenger flights during the lockdown in the country which began on March 25. 

Puri, to this end, also assured that the disinvestment process will soon be started with "full force" -- as soon as the economic activity is resumed in the post-coronavirus phase.

Those availing the repatriation flights will be charged, Puri had earlier said.

A passenger on a London-Delhi flight will be charged Rs 50,000 and on a Dhaka-Delhi flight Rs 12,000.

India has been under lockdown since March 25 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. All commercial passenger flights were suspended for this period.

The first and second phase of lockdown in India was from March 25 to April 14 and April 15 to May 3, respectively. The third phase began from May 4 and would end on May 17.

Whenever the government resumes commercial passenger flights, it would be done in a graded manner, Puri had said.

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 46,400 people and killed around 1,560 people in India till now.

Meanwhile, an Air India repatriation flight from Singapore landed at the Delhi airport on Friday morning with 234 passengers.

On Thursday, two special flights from the UAE carrying a total of 363 Indian nationals, including nine infants, landed in Kerala.