Coronavirus: Delhi HC demands ‘status report’ on Govt. policy to evacuate students from Iran

Justice Navin Chawla of the Delhi High Court has directed the Central Government to submit a ‘status report’ about the evacuation policy & plan to bring back Indians from Iran due to massive outbreak of Coronavirus in Iran.

The court was hearing a plea filed by parents of the students stranded in Iran. The petition represented by lawyer Fozia Rahman seeks court’s direction to the Ministry of External Affairs to provide special transport to bring students from Iran to Bharat, and alleges that the evacuation process is focused on pilgrims. 117 students, mostly from Kashmir, are reportedly stranded in 4 Iranian universities.

Govt. response to Coronavirus COVID19 outbreak

Around 1.2 lakh people from over 100 countries have been infected till date with the Coronavirus which first originated 3 months back in Wuhan city of China. Bharat has seen around 60 cases since the first patient was confirmed in Kerala on 30 Jan. Since Feb, the govt. has been busy in evacuating Bharatiya students and citizens stuck in China and other countries.

After China, South Korea, Iran and Italy have seen the maximum number of cases and the situation in Iran and Italy is especially bleak with the healthcare system under unprecedented stress. Since the outbreak began, the Bharatiya govt. has been proactively working to evacuate Bharatiya citizens and even foreigners from affected hotspots.

On 10 March, the first batch of 58 Indians was brought back from Iran via an IAF plane, as announced by the EAM Minister. Thus far, the Central Government has evacuated 948 people (900 Bharatiya nationals and the rest 48 foreigners) from Coronavirus (COVID19) affected countries, out of which 654 found COVID19 negative were discharged and the remaining 294 are in quarantine.

Just yesterday, the Central Government suspended all tourist visas till 15 April, and announced strict screening measures at port of departure for Bharatiya nationals travelling from affected countries, besides a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

For students and citizens stuck in Italy, Iran and other affected countries, the Govt. is asking them to produce COVID19 negative certificates from designated medical laboratories in those countries, or has deployed teams of doctors to collect samples for testing and is allowing those tested negative to travel.

Ministry of Health & Family Welfare is posting regular updates on the fast-evolving situation regarding the Coronavirus pandemic.

In the past too, the Central Government has earned high praise for successful evacuation of Bharatiya nationals and even foreigners from conflict zones like Yemen. Travellers coming in from London have recounted how much better organized the screening is at Delhi airport.

Judicial overreach and micro-management?

However, despite the plethora of information being put out by Government at all levels on the steps taken to evacuate Indians stranded in Coronavirus-affected countries, the Delhi HC has asked for a ‘status report’ on evacuation policy.

Wouldn’t the Govt. machinery’s time be better utilized in actually working to tackle the outbreak rather than report to the judiciary? Is listening to such petitions really necessary when the entire world is scrambling to tackle this pandemic, and all Governments are exercising extreme caution even in admitting their own citizens returning from severely affected countries?

As per Livelaw.in, Central Government counsel Anurag Ahluwalia clearly explained the situation to the court –

“Despite almost no support from the Iranian authorities on the ground, various steps have been taken to evacuate not just the pilgrims but also students and other visitors.

A team of experts headed by a scientist from Pune laboratory was sent to Iran. Moreover, the government is following the WHO Protocol and swabs are being brought back to India for testing. ‘More than 3000 persons are stuck there, it’s a mammoth task. Our embassy is fully working and providing all kinds of support to the persons stuck in Iran.’

Further, it was submitted by the government that the Iranian government has stopped airline communication. Therefore, Air Force aircrafts were sent to evacuate the Indian citizens.

‘We’re in touch with the Iranian government to let certain airlines operate between the two countries’, the government said.

It was also submitted by the government that fishermen and pilgrims which are stuck in different provinces of Iran are being provided with monetary and medical assistance.

Yet, the court asked the Government to chart out a ‘priority plan’ and provide ‘actual assurances’ to students stuck in Iran. “Please do something more”, the court suggested.

Interestingly, the Delhi HC is also currently hearing a petition filed by an NGO  Centre for Accountability and Systematic Change to mandate the use of double-sided A4 papers for filing. Recently, the Kolkata HC stayed a ‘leave India notice’ handed out to a Polish student by the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for violating student visa norms that bar foreigners from challenging a law passed by Parliament.

A Supreme Court bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta ruled that NGOs and ‘civil society’ groups cannot be barred from receiving foreign funds under FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Rules) if they indulge in agitations, bandhs or hartals in support of ‘public causes’ as long as the NGO/group is not involved in ‘active politics’. SC was hearing a petition filed by an NGO ‘Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)’ – which itself is a recipient of FCRA funds from evangelical European Christian organisations. 

After the excesses of the Indira Gandhi-led Congress administrations in 1970s and 80s, and since the dawn of the coalition era in 1989, the judiciary has turned itself into a closed club through the Collegium System. Since the turn of the century, they have routinely started encroaching in the executive domain and the PIL system has been abused to focus judicial attention on matters deemed important by left-liberals. A glut of FCRA-funded NGOs have been allowed to operate unchecked to further their ulterior motives under the guise of noble-sounding causes like social justice and human rights.

A Constitutional democracy like ours requires that the 3 main pillars of our system – legislature, executive and judiciary – focus on their respective domains and not try to micro-manage each other, or prove themselves superior. Delhi HC and other top courts should introspect on their huge case backlog and ponder why exemplary cases like the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder have still not reached closure.

The Government has its hands full with the Coronavirus issue and has done a commendable job thus far in tackling the crisis. They should be allowed to focus on the job at hand, rather than expend precious manpower on clerical reporting to other arms of the State.


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