SC dismisses plea for using ICWF for repatriation of stranded Indians

PTI
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Jun 19, 2020, 07:42 PM(IST)

Supreme Court of India Photograph:( Reuters )

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A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, however, said it would be open to the petitioner to make an appropriate representation in this regard to the government which may be considered in accordance with law.

The Supreme Court Friday dismissed a plea seeking a direction to the Centre to make appropriate use of Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF), aimed at assisting overseas Indian nationals in times of distress and emergency, for repatriation of economically weaker persons including migrant labourers who are stranded in Gulf countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, however, said it would be open to the petitioner to make an appropriate representation in this regard to the government which may be considered in accordance with law.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the court that these are "matter of policy" and if the petitioner makes a representation to the government, the same shall be considered by the Centre.

"We are of the view that no direction can be issued as prayed in the writ petition. The writ petition is accordingly dismissed. However, it shall be open for the petitioner to make an appropriate representation to the Government of India which may be considered in accordance with law," said the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and M R Shah, which heard the matter through video-conferencing.

The counsel appearing for petitioner NGO Pravasi Legal Cell told the bench that ICWF could be utilised for repatriation of economically weaker persons stranded in Gulf countries due to the pandemic.

The plea, filed through advocate Jose Abraham, said that the government has decided to facilitate the return of Indians stranded abroad in a phased manner but is going to charge fare for such repatriation.

It claimed that a vast majority of Indian expatriates in Gulf countries are involved in low-skilled labour and are struggling to meet their basic needs in the dire jobless situation arising out of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Fixing fare for repatriation of at the time of distress would further put burden on the migrant labourers who are already out of job and proper shelter, putting them in a vulnerable condition living abroad," the plea said.

It said that the government authorities should use the ICWF, set up in 2009, which is aimed at assisting overseas Indian nationals in times of distress and emergency in the 'most deserving cases' on a 'means tested basis' for repatriating poor migrant labourers.

It said that ICWF was set up by the government for critical support in emergency evacuation of Indian nationals from conflict zones, countries affected by natural disasters and other challenging situations.

The plea said the government should consider the situation of migrant workers, who have already lost their jobs and are living in miserable condition in Gulf countries, and make use of ICWF for bearing the cost of repatriation of such needy Indian citizens without any charge. 

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