NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Tuesday said there was a need to wait for sometime before any direction is given to the Centre for bringing back Indian citizens stranded in USA in the wake of coronavirus pandemic as efforts are being made by both, New Delhi and Washington, to provide assistance to them.
The top court said the US government was extending visas of stranded Indians who are spread across America and at this stage its is difficult to pass direction for bringing them back.
The apex court, which was hearing a plea seeking direction to the Centre to bring back Indian citizens stranded in USA due to travel restriction, observed that the coronavirus pandemic is a worldwide problem and every country is doing its best to deal with the situation.
"They cannot be brought in, no matter how much we want. Assistance is being given to them. They are spread across US and cannot be brought back. The US government is extending the visas. Let us wait for some time," a bench of Justices N V Ramana, S K Kaul and B R Gavai said.
USA is reported to be worst affected by COVID-19 with deaths of over 40,000 and more than 7. 25 lakh cases of virus infection.
Senior advocate Vibha Datta Makhija, who filed the plea, told the bench that application for visa extension costs around 500 US Dollars and there was no guarantee of visa getting extended.
"It is a different government. We cannot control their decisions. Indian government can request the US government to not create problems in the visa extension," said the bench, which heard the matter through video-conferencing.
The petitioner told the bench that evacuation of Indians from foreign countries amid coronavirus pandemic was done earlier and some of the people stranded in the USA are in dire need of help.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that evacuation from foreign countries was done earlier but "now, internationally it has been stopped".
Taking note of the submission, the bench observed that it cannot pass an order for evacuation at this stage.
Makhija said there are international commitment to meet along with the guidelines of World Health Organisation (WHO) and also rights of citizens.
However, the bench said "The court will not tell the government to do anything in a particular manner. It is a worldwide problem. Each country is doing their best. These are not matters for court's intervention."
It said the government would lay down the roadmap.
When the petitioner said that several persons stranded in USA are in high distress and some of them are suffering from diseases, the solicitor general suggested that they can convey the issues to the designated nodal officer for the particular country.
Separately, the bench also heard a plea seeking evacuation of around 800 Indian fishermen who are stranded in Iran amid restrctions due to the pandemic.
The solicitor general informed the bench that there is an "inter-provincial lockdown" in Iran.
"We are in touch with the Embassy of Iran. The Iranian authorities have been in touch with them. They are on a long term visa. There is Inter-provincial lockdown in Iran," he said.
Mehta said that Indian Embassy and consulate have also been in touch with these fishermen and making arrangements for adequate food supply to them.
The counsel appearing for the petitioner raised the issue of supply of food and water to these fishermen and claimed that they have received a memo from Iran over WhatsApp as per which, the Embassy has not paid to the company which was given charge to supply food to them.
However, Mehta said all necessary help have been extended to them through the Embassy.
"The government is helping. Whatever can be done, will be done. Situation has gone out of hand across the world," the bench observed.
"They are on long term visa, have WhatsApp connectivity through which you are speaking to them. Let the government handle the situation as per the conditions," it said.
The petition has claimed that these fishermen, who are mostly from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Gujarat, are stranded in boats stationed in shores of Bandar-e Moqam and Lavan Island in Hormozgan province of Iran.