Monday 6 April 2020 2:30 AM UTC
By Smriti Ramachandran (Hindustan Times)
NEW DELHI April 6: Minister of state for external affairs (MEA) and parliamentary affairs, V Muraleedharan, spoke to Hindustan Times about bringing Indians back from abroad, foreigners stranded in India, and relief being sent by India to other countries, among other issues.
MEA had a daunting task of evacuating Indian citizens from overseas. How did you go about it?
A lot of Indians who were abroad have been brought home; the last such flight came from Iran.
We have been carrying out evacuations, but since international travel has stalled, and there is a lockdown in India, we have through our high commissions and embassies ensured that food and other necessities of people of Indian origin are taken care of.
In fact there are between 700-800 Indians abroad who are infected by the virus, even their needs are being taken care of.
We get a lot of emails and requests from people who want to come home, some are unwell, some have bereavements in their families, but since international travel is affected so we cannot do selective evacuation.
Embassies and high commissions have been asked to step up; they have also been helping people whose visas have expired. It is not their job, but they are helping people renew their visas as well.
How is India helping in the relocation of foreign nationals stranded across the country?
For foreign nationals who are in India, we have already started a portal where they can register and we can plan for their evacuation. A lot of people from countries such as Germany, the UK and the US have already been evacuated.
Governments of some countries sought our help in getting their nationals who were stuck in distant places to reach the airports in Mumbai, Delhi or Kochi; that assistance we could provide after coordinating with the home ministry and the local police – we helped them reach the airport from where they could then be evacuated to their respective countries.
How exactly is India helping other countries? We’ve sent help to Maldives…
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been in discussion with heads of states; he had a meeting with the members of the Saarc nations and G20; he also spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday (expert teams of the two countries will actively share information on measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus as well as about ongoing research on treatment and vaccines.)
Union Minister for external affairs S Jaishankar has also spoken to his US counterpart Mike Pompeo (on how to combat the international crisis, including strengthening global pharmaceutical and healthcare manufacturing and supply chains).
The PM also addressed the heads of 130 missions. Wherever we can offer help and provide assistance, we’re going to do that.
What is the status of relief efforts by India to the neighbouring countries?
Being a member of Saarc, PM Modi has already announced the setting up of a Covid-19 emergency fund with India making an initial contribution of $10 million.
Countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives have already made the contributions. These countries are again collaborating in whatever ways to fight the pandemic.
What is the initial assessment of the lockdown?
The overall impact has been good because people have appreciated the decisive action of the PM. Because of his address on TV, a lot of people understood the seriousness of the situation. His word carries weight and people have faith in him.
The economic impact is an important issue, and the second is the migration of workers. The government will have to work on these.
Some groups [of exporters] have had a discussion with the commerce minister pointing out how India could lose markets if restricted resumption of services export services is not started. But we will all have to bear the impact of the pandemic.
However, some international financial agencies have said that except China, India and Indonesia, which will have growth in the whole financial year, other countries will be in recession.
The challenges now are to ensure that the delivery of essential goods is carried without any hiccups. The railways,for instance, is transporting all essential goods, but the workers to carry the load may not be permitted by the police to leave their homes.
We will have to find a way out; those in the government and in the police, particularly at the lower levels, will have to be a bit more discerning and understand the nuances of the lockdown.
There was criticism from the Opposition that Parliament should have been adjourned earlier?
Parliament was on because at that moment there was a sense that adjourning the House will create a situation of panic. The Prime Minister had said ‘no’ to panic and ‘yes’ to precautions.
We had already taken steps such as banning visitors from Parliament. The message was that life has to go on but with precautions. After the “Janta curfew” on Marcch 22, and when an escalation of cases began, it was decided that there will be a locked down.
After the Lok Sabha passed the finance Bill on March 23, a lockdown was announced on the 24th, in that way the timing was perfect; it was neither too late nor too early.
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