Centre told the Delhi High
Court Friday that it cannot evacuate Indians abroad due to the lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus pandemic, but was taking proactive steps for their safety and welfare.
A bench of Justices Sanjeev Sachdeva and Navin Chawla, which conducted the hearing through video conferencing, was told by the Centre’s counsel that a high-level group of ministers has been formed to review the current status and actions for prevention and management of COVID-19 and appropriate advisories are being issued from time to time.
Central government standing counsel Jasmeet Singh said a large number of Indian students are studying abroad and the missions are in constant touch with their universities or educational institutions for rendering assistance to them.
“In the present lockdown situation, it is not possible for the Ministry (of External Affairs) to organise any evacuation of Indian Nationals from Bangladesh or any other country, however all possible help and assistance is being provided to all Indian nationals,” he said.
“A COVID-19 cell has been formed to ensure greater access and precision of information. Sub-groups dealing with different regions of the world have also been created. Missions/ Posts abroad have been advised to set up dedicated helpline numbers and given wide publicity to the same to assist stranded Indians…
“Nodal officers have been identified and designated at each Mission/ Post to provide assistance to Indian nationals abroad and a 24X7 helpline number and an e-mail have been made functional for the said purpose and the helpline numbers and e-mail IDs have been widely publicized through social networking sites, official government websites so that Indians abroad get information regarding the same,” he said.
The Centre, in an affidavit filed in the court, said that since the outbreak of COVID-19, the government has taken proactive steps to ensure safety, welfare and well being of the Indian nationals abroad as well as its people in India.
After perusing the affidavit and status report of the Centre, the bench said it was of the view that no further orders are required to be passed on the petition filed by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal seeking direction to the authorities to forthwith take steps for safe and secure return of around 500 Indian medical students who are stuck in Bangladesh.
The advocate said most of the students are residents of Jammu and Kashmir.
The court disposed of the petition and granted liberty to the petitioner to approach it in case the need arises in future.
The Centre further said that the Ambassadors are interacting with the Indian community through virtual platforms for their engagement in the time of crisis and to provide assistance.
It said the Indian nationals and communities are being mobilised to help fellow Indians in distress in their country and wherever possible, the Missions are providing food and accommodation to stranded citizens.
Regarding the steps taken by the Mission in Bangladesh, the government said it has established a 24X7 helpline on March 15 to address the queries of Indians and regular information is being shared through website and social media.
It said that since the educational institutions were closed in Bangladesh, all local students have left for their homes and only foreign students including Indians remained there and the High Commission has contacted the concerned authorities in the colleges to keep the canteens/mess running and make available the resources to ensure the students’ well being.
“It is stated that there are 114 medical colleges in Bangladesh and around 6,000 Indian students study in these colleges and approximately 500 Indian students have stayed back in Bangladesh. With regard to this situation, it is stated that since most of the medical colleges are attached to hospitals. In case of any emergency these hospitals are best equipped to deal with the situation,” it said.
Regarding sanitisers, the government said it was available with the colleges and in markets and the colleges in Bangladesh are trying to provide basic facilities to all the students who are in the hostels.
With regard to food facilities, the court was informed by the government that a majority of students are availing mess facilities and some of them, in their own volition, have started running their own mess because of social distancing.
The court was told that the nodal officer appointed in Bangladesh has contacted one student of each of the medical colleges as per the list provided by the petitioner and assured cooperation to them.
The court had earlier asked the Centre to explain the steps taken by it to evacuate the Indian students stranded in Bangladesh.
The court also disposed of another petition filed by a man seeking direction to the Centre to evacuate his son from Edinburgh, Scotland and to ensure that he is provided all medical facilities, if required.
The man said in his plea that pursuant to the consolidated travel advisory issued by the Centre, his son was not been able to travel back to India.
The court said in view of the status report filed by the Ministry of External Affairs, through Central government standing counsel Amit Mahajan, and the assurance given that all possible necessary help shall be provided to all Indian students who are stranded abroad, no further orders were required to be passed in the petition.