New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought response from the Centre on a plea for immediate evacuation of all Indian students who are stranded in the United Kingdom (UK) amid the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The plea has said that governments of the UK and Germany have approached the Centre to facilitate return of their nationals stranded in India due to lockdown here and, as per media reports, flights would be operated in the near future from Mumbai and New Delhi for this purpose.
The petition, filed by Delhi-based advocate Madhurima Mridul, said that the government should be directed to ensure that flights ferrying British nationals from India to the UK be used to evacuate Indian students who are stranded there and are willing to come back.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to take instructions on the issue and posted the matter for hearing on April 13.
Advocate Sunil Fernandes appeared for the petitioner during the hearing which was conducted through video-conferencing.
The plea has also sought a direction to the government to ensure that till requisite arrangements are made for evacuation, the students stranded in the UK are provided accommodation, adequate health and medical support, if needed, by the Indian High Commission in London.
It said that many of these students are exposed to greater risk of contracting COVID-19 as they are living in packed hostels with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities during the lockdown imposed in the UK, which has so far recorded over 2,300 deaths due to coronavirus.
The plea, filed by advocate Astha Sharma, said that the government should ensure that these students are quarantined and provided with all medical and health facilities as prescribed by the World Health Organisation.
It said that due to travel ban amid coronavirus pandemic, many Indian students, who had earlier booked tickets and reached various airports in the UK, were stranded and unable to take their journey to India.
"Surprisingly, India is probably the only country that has imposed an embargo on the return of its own citizens, and where other countries are making all possible efforts to repatriate their citizens stranded in various countries, India with its travel bans has made it impossible for its own citizens to come back home," it said.
The plea claimed that countries having more COVID-19 cases like China, Spain, Italy, Iran and the US have not imposed any embargo on the return of their nationals from foreign countries.
It said that Indian government could quarantine those who return from abroad and impose reasonable restrictions on their movement but to "pass a blanket order of preventing an Indian citizen from returning back to his homeland is violative of the Constitutional rights" guaranteed under Articles 14 (equality before law) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty).