Due to increasing number of cases of Covid-19 in United States, a Public Interest Litigation has been filed in Supreme Court seeking directions to the Government to organise special flights and formulate specific evacuation measures to airlift distressed Indian citizens from there.
The Petitioners contend that blanket travel ban and airspace lockdown imposed on all international flights has aggravated distress of Indian citizens in US.
The Petition has been filed by Senior Advocate Vibha Dutt Makhija and Advocate Kashish Aneja seeks indulgence of Court to ensure that Centre factors in the plight of Indian citizens to foreign jurisdictions and formulates a streamlined method to evacuate the distressed.
Petitioners suggest following factors on which evacuation can be conducted:-
- Assessing high-risk zones to determine vulnerability, and giving priority to Indians in those areas.
- According to visa-statuses, those whose visas have expired or are on the verge of expiry could be evacuated on priority basis.
- Priority on the basis of level of distress, be it economic distress, psychological, lack of shelter, need for medical attention, age consideration or any other concerns.
- Subject the evacuated to strict protocols and directives stipulated by the Government.
It has also been submitted that there is no violation of any foreign law or any impediment in International law if the Government decides to evacuate its citizens. On the contrary it is asserted international treaties and protocols obligate other Governments to assist such an endeavour of phased evacuation.
Examples of evacuation of Indian citizens from high-risk zones in Wuhan, Italy and Iran are given to show that action is discriminatory against citizens in New York and California and that Government is obliged to evacuate all citizens from high risk zones under Sections 35 and 36, Disaster Management Act,2005.
The urgency of the Petition is based on the plight of Indian citizens stranded in various parts of U.S.A including Students, elderly parents of Indian citizens employed in U.S.A who are visiting States on visitor visa, elderly parents of U.S. citizens of Indian origin, Indians holding work visas in form of OTP/ H-1B and more specifically Indian nationals whose employment has got halted /terminated because of economic slowdown due to Covid-19 pandemic.
The Petition mentions that in view of recent announcement of extended lockdown, there looms uncertainty regarding visa extension status of these Indian nationals who shall be declared as “illegal immigrants/aliens” by U.S Government making them liable to legal action.
It is pertinent to note that recently, US President warned of retaliation if India doesn’t provide hydroxychloroquine to U.S. India, with its ability to mass produce large quantities of hydroxychloroquine has agreed to provide hydroxychloroquine to several countries, thereby banking upon the opportunity to foster cordial relations in this time of crises. US President Donald Trump on this kind gesture of cooperation by India remarked that “PM Modi was terrific in allowing export of hydroxychloroquine to U.S.”
-India Legal Bureau