While the standard procedures evolved will help, local conditions will need to be factored in by the embassies.
After having built our capacities to screen, treat and quarantine COVID 19 patients, the government gets ready for another battle i.e., evacuating huge numbers of Indians stranded abroad in distressful conditions. A standard operating procedure (SOP) has been laid down. Indian missions/posts have a huge task of prioritising from amongst the sea of Indians who have started listing themselves. While the standard procedures evolved will help, local conditions will need to be factored in by the embassies. Certain categories like students may not have the money to pay the fare. The government will need to go into such aspects sympathetically.
“We are apparently on the brink of one of the biggest evacuation in history. It will definitely be far bigger than the Kuwait evacuation we witnessed in 1990. The exercise calls for a massive amount of planning, inter-ministerial and inter-department coordination. The Centre, States and union territories, district level administration will need to form a seamless chain to receive Indians from abroad, put them through quarantine and transport them back home. The whole process will require real-time data flow. Any impediments anywhere along the chain will lead to overburdening at the previous node. The armed forces are extremely efficient in maintaining such logistics chains and will surely strengthen the civil administration’s capability to undertake this massive exercise,” opines Brig SK Chatterji (retd).
According to Chatterji, “Naval ship Jalashwa has reportedly been readied, and a few more naval ships, they will undertake the sea leg of movement of Indians abroad. Air Force transport aircraft assets will be pressed into service along with chartered aircraft to fly Indians back home. When viewed in the context of numbers, it’s mind-boggling. UAE alone hosts 3.4 million Indians and is scheduled to be the first port of call for an evacuation. It’s to be followed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Incidentally, over 1, 70,000 Indians were evacuated from Kuwait after Saddam Hussein overran Kuwait in 1990.”
“Having already faced criticism overcharging the migrant labourers for transportation back home, the government seems to have been careful enough in working out the process for evacuees from abroad. The evacuation will have to be paid for by the individual. Blue collared workers are being given preference,” he observes.
The evacuees will have to undergo testing before boarding and a 14 days quarantine on landing.
“The facilities created by the armed forces will surely be used for such purposes. With the biggest evacuation in our history about to start, the capacities we have created could well come under stress. The obligations of the individual being evacuated are being built into an agreement that the individual will have to sign before boarding. Post landing, state governments have been asked to make arrangements for the movement of such people to their home states,” states the Indian Army veteran.
Commodore Anil Jai Singh, (Retd) Vice President Indian Maritime Foundation, “The Indian Navy has evacuated Indian citizens including some from neighbouring countries in the past also. Lebanon in 2006 comes immediately to mind. HADR and aid to civil power are roles the Armed Forces perform regularly.”
“The three ships on standby are expeditionary amphibious platforms meant to carry additional personnel, mainly troops and vehicles. The nature of the corona pandemic would require additional precautions on board which the ships would have prepared themselves for well. Adequate precautions in terms of space management on board and adequate protective gear would have been embarked,” the former naval officer opines.
“Perhaps the number of evacuees on board the ships would be restricted because of the need to maintain a physical distance. The Indian Navy is mandated to protect India’s interests anywhere in the world and this includes the Indian Diaspora which is an integral part of India. It also sends a very positive image of India as a security provider, first responder and is a manifestation of India’s soft power,” concludes Commodore Singh.