Senior Congress leader and Member of Parliament (MP) from Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor has urged Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri to operationalise evacuation flights connecting Europe, North America and certain other regions, with Kerala, under the Vande Bharat Mission.
In a letter to Puri, Tharoor said while evacuation flights, as part of the mission, have evacuated Indian nationals from some of the major cities like San Francisco, New York and Frankfurt, these flights have primarily flown back to metropolitan hubs like New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad.
"As a result, those wishing to travel to other states from these cities, have to undergo the mandatory period of quarantine first, before they are allowed to proceed to their homes. This has become a cause for concern for expatriate groups from the state of Kerala, who are currently in these countries (the US and Europe)," the MP from Thiruvananthapuram said.
"Recently, I received a representation from over 54 Keralites stranded in Germany, which also includes pregnant women, senior citizens and those facing imminent visa expiry," he said.
The only way for this group to return would be to fly to one of the aforementioned Indian cities and undergo quarantine there, Tharoor pointed out, adding that this would not only cause mental anguish and concerns of potentially contracting the virus, but would also increase the strain on the existing infrastructure within these cities that serve as institutional quarantine facilities.
Similar concerns have also been raised by a number of Keralite pravasi welfare groups that are based in the US, he said in a letter dated June 2.
"There is, therefore, a strong case to consider operationalising flights that land directly in one of the major airports in the state, particularly the airport in my constituency of Thiruvananthapuram, which has the proven capability of facilitating the arrival of wide-body aircraft (twin-aisled)," Tharoor said.
Such a measure would give these groups the mental satisfaction of being quarantined in their own state and also allow for seamless transfer to their respective homes once the period of quarantine is over, he said.
While the majority of pravasis or expatriates from Kerala reside in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regions and other parts of the Middle East, the state also has a substantial community in parts of Europe like Germany as well as other countries like the US, Algeria, Australia and Canada, Tharoor said.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has also indicated that they will have no objection to direct flights from the US and European airports to Kerala, provided there are enough passengers to fill wide-bodied aircraft, he said.