Coronavirus: India readies mega plan to bring back its nationals stranded abroad

New Delhi, Apr 29 (PTI) The government is working on a mega plan to deploy a raft of naval ships as well as military and commercial aircraft to evacuate thousands of Indians stranded in the Gulf and other regions after the nationwide lockdown ends, official sources said on Wednesday.

The government has already reached out to several states asking them to make necessary arrangements for the Indians when they are brought back home under the multi-agency operation.

The Civil Aviation Ministry has conveyed to the core group planning the operation that it is ready to make available majority of the nearly 650 commercial planes including freighters for the mission, the sources said.

They said the Navy and the Indian Air Force have also been told to keep some of their platforms on stand-by for the evacuation which is likely to be the biggest after 'Operation Raahat' when India brought back over 6,700 people, including citizens from 41 countries, from strife-torn Yemen in 2015.

The Navy has identified the INS Jalashwa, an amphibious ship, and two other landing ship tanks for the operation.

The INS Jalashwa, capable of carrying out amphibious operations as well as search and rescue missions, can transport over 1,000 people. Indian naval ships Mumbai, Tarkash and Sumitra were part of 'Operation Raahat'.

The sources said the Indian Air Force is also keeping a number of its transport aircraft ready for the operation.

The operation will begin after the lockdown is lifted. The current phase of the lockdown ends on May 3. It is not immediately clear whether the government will further extend the drastic measure.

The sources said that priority will be to evacuate the Indians from the Gulf nations following which the government will try to bring back those stranded in Europe and other parts of the globe.

It is not immediately clear how many Indians the government plans to bring back home. As a matter of policy, India decided not to bring back the stranded Indians from abroad till the nationwide lockdown ends.

Around eight million Indians are living in the Gulf countries and there has been growing anxiety among them over their livelihood in view of the pandemic as it has majorly impacted the oil-driven economy of the region.

It is learnt that Indian missions in the region have been told to identify people who want to return home.

Almost all Gulf countries have taken a series of drastic measures including imposing total lockdown, travel restrictions and even closing borders to stem the spread of the coronavirus infection.

In a video-conference with chief ministers on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said evacuation of Indians has to be done keeping in mind the fact that they don't get inconvenienced and their families are not under any risk.

Over the last few weeks, Prime Minister Modi has been holding consultations with leaders of several Gulf nations, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with whom he spoke on March 17 to discuss the COVID-19 situation.

Modi has also spoken to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah and Bahraini King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa.

During the discussions, one of the primary issues raised by Prime Minister Modi was the well-being of the Indian diaspora in these nations, officials said.

The prime minister personally requested the leaders to ensure wellbeing of the Indian community there, and each of these leaders gave strong assurances that the Indian diaspora will be taken care of in these tough times, they said. PTI MPB DSP RT RT