COVID-19: ‘Contact Indian Students in Iran,’ Delhi HC Tells Centre
Justice Navin Chawla asked the central government to “do a little more” than what it has been doing till now.
The Delhi High Court directed the Centre on Thursday, 12 March, to ensure that the Indian embassy in Iran gets in touch with the Indian students stranded there in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, instead of "merely issuing advisories", and to assure them of all assistance.
Justice Navin Chawla asked the central government to “do a little more” than what it has been doing till now to evacuate over 3,000 Indian nationals, including pilgrims, fishermen and students, presently stranded in Iran.
‘No Local Support on the Ground’: Centre’s Counsel
Central government standing counsel Anurag Ahluwalia, representing the ministries of home, external affairs, health and aviation, told the court that mass evacuation was presently not possible as firstly, Iran has banned all commercial flights with India from 26 February onwards and secondly, those stranded there have to be tested for the coronavirus before they can be brought back.
Ahluwalia said there was no local support on the ground from Iranian authorities and it took several rounds of negotiations before they allowed Indian scientists to set up a lab there to take samples from Indian citizens and allowed an Indian Air Force plane to evacuate 58 nationals, including 25 women and 2 children.
He said the embassy there was in contact with Indian nationals presently in that country and advisories have been issued to them on following the health protocols issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The government counsel also said embassy officials were travelling to all the locations where Indians were stranded to assure them of all possible assistance for their safe and early return.
The court, however, said, "Merely issuing advisories was not going to help. That is no assurance. You know where the students are. You have to contact them. Not doing so will not be tolerated. Get in touch with them and give a report by Tuesday (March 17)."
‘Govt Giving Priority to Indian Pilgrims’
The court was hearing a plea moved by the parents of the Indian students, who are stranded in Iran due to travel restrictions following the coronavirus outbreak, seeking directions to the Centre to evacuate them.
Advocates Sikander A Siddiqui and Fozia Rahman, who appeared for the parents, told the court that the government was giving priority to the Indian pilgrims who are scattered across Iran instead of the students who can be easily located.
They said the students have been quarantined in their university hostels and there has been no contact from the Indian embassy in Iran.
The submissions were disputed by Ahluwalia who said the evacuation of Indian nationals was an ongoing process which will take time and the government was not distinguishing between students and pilgrims.
He said after swab samples of Indian nationals are brought back here and tested, then only they can be transported back here.
He further told the court that all possible efforts are being made to work out modalities to operate a limited number of flights to enable early and safe return of Indians stranded in Iran.
The court, thereafter, directed the government to come up with a positive plan regarding evacuation of the students and the steps taken so far to provide them with medical and other assistance.
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