NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Monday observed that Indian citizens stranded in various countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic should "stay where they are" after the Centre said it would not be feasible to "selectively evacuate" those who want to return due to various reasons.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said this while hearing through video-conferencing a batch of pleas seeking evacuation of Indian citizens from different countries including United Kingdom and Gulf nations.
"People should stay where they are right now," said the bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and M M Shantanagoudar.
When one of the lawyers referred to students stranded in the UK, the bench observed, "Have you seen the affidavit of Union of India? You are secure there.
"Why do you want to come back?" In its affidavit filed on a plea seeking evacuation of Indian students stranded in UK, the Centre has given details of the steps taken by the concerned authorities including the Indian High Commission at London to assist Indians there.
Detailing the Centre's position regarding evacuation of Indians from abroad amid coronavirus or COVID-19, the affidavit said the country has a very large Indian community abroad including NRIs and Indian students in foreign countries.
"It is true that the GoI (Government of India) initially undertook some evacuation operations of Indian nationals as also nationals of other countries from China, Japan, Iran and Italy when the situation of coronavirus situation in India was not so grim.
"Many of the persons evacuated from these countries were then brought and subjected to quarantine in India," the affidavit said.
"However, given the present situation of the coronavirus outbreak in India and the available limited resources, it is not feasible to selectively evacuate Indian citizens from abroad when a large number of them from a number of countries want to return back due to various reasons," it said.
The Centre said that the severe risk posed by arrivals from an increasing number of countries affected by COVID-19 is something that the government is seeking to minimize.
"The approach of the government has, therefore, been to advise the Indian nationals to stay put where they are in line with government's approach to contain the further spread of the virus within India and allowing health machinery to focus on domestic containment effectively," it said.
Meanwhile, the apex court said that it would hear after four weeks a plea, filed by Delhi-based advocate Madhurima Mridul, in which the Centre has filed its affidavit.
Mridul, through her counsel Sunil Fernandes, 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.
Similarly, the bench sought response from the Centre on a plea seeking a direction to bring back around 860 fishermen stranded on boats near the Iranian shore due to restrictions imposed globally to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
It said that two separate petitions, seeking evacuation of Indian citizens from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman -- would be heard after four weeks.