Vande Bharat Mission in phase 3 may rope private airlines, talks on
The third phase of Vande Bharat Mission, India’s massive programme to repatriate nationals stranded across the globe due to the Covid-19 crisis, is expected to involve private airlines to increase the number of flights.
The third phase is set to begin after June 13, when the second phase will end. India is bringing back about 32,000 citizens on more than 160 flights from 47 countries during the second phase, which began on May 16.
“There will be a third phase of repatriation. The second phase will last till June 13,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told an online news briefing.
“We are very receptive to the idea [of involving private airlines] and the ministry of civil aviation is already in discussions with private airlines to see how they can be included under the Vande Bharat Mission so that we can increase the number of flights,” he said.
All flights in the first two phases were being operated by state-run Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express. The government has also used air force transport aircraft and naval warships to repatriate nationals from some countries.
As of Thursday, a total of 23,475 Indians have been repatriated under Vande Bharat Mission. They include 4,883 workers, 4,196 students and 3,087 professionals.
The second phase has included destinations such as Istanbul, Ho Chi Minh City and Lagos, and increased flights to the US and Europe. “We are also looking at developing Frankfurt as a hub [for Europe],” Srivastava said.
Several flights from other countries, coming in to evacuate nationals of those countries, have ferried stranded Indians. A flight from Buenos Aires that arrived on Thursday morning carried 62 Indians, while a flight operated by Iran’s Mahaan Air on May 17 carried about 300 Indian pilgrims from Ladakh.
Other flights have brought back Indians from Argentina, Djibouti, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Peru and South Africa. A special Tunisian military evacuation flight took off from Tunis on Thursday with 25 Indian nationals and it is expected to arrive in New Delhi on Friday morning.
A total of 259,001 Indian nationals in 98 countries around the world have registered to return under Vande Bharat Mission. Most of them are workers (28%), students (25%), professionals (14.5%), and short-term visa holders such as tourists (7.6%). Fishermen, deportees and Indian nationals who benefited from visa amnesties have also registered.
The government has already said priority will be given to those with compelling reasons for returning, such as loss of jobs, medical emergencies and senior citizens. Among those with compelling reasons who registered to return are 16,991 facing medical emergencies and 8,746 pregnant women and senior citizens.
Following a spat between the Central and West Bengal governments over the lack of flights to the state, 169 Indian nationals were repatriated from Dhaka to Kolkata on May 18. Two more Dhaka-Kolkata flights are scheduled for May 27 and June 1, and further flights to West Bengal are planned from Europe, the UK and other destinations.
Srivastava said India is also facilitating the travel of foreign nationals on outbound flights under Vande Bharat Mission. Three flights were operated to the UK on May 16, 18 and 20 and two flights to the US on May 18 and 20. Four more flights are scheduled to the US and two to Frankfurt.
Wherever possible, passengers have to undergo testing before boarding flights and in a few instances, those who tested positive for Covid-19 weren’t allowed to board. “There is full medical screening and only asymptomatic passengers are allowed on board,” Srivastava said.