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[COVID-19 Lockdown] Supreme Court seeks Centre's response on plea to evacuate Indian students stranded in the UK

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today sought the Centre's response on a plea filed seeking urgent evacuation of Indian students stranded in the United Kingdom amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde with Justice L Nageswara Rao directed the Centre to response on a plea filed by a practising Advocate, Madhurima Mridul, seeking the urgent evacuation of Indian students stranded in the United Kingdom amid the global pandemic.

Owing to the fast-spreading contagion of COVID-19, all inbound international flights had been stopped starting from March 22 by the government of India. This led to a number of students, who had tickets to travel back to India, being stranded at airports in the UK on account of cancelled passenger flights.

There are hundreds of Indian students who have valid student visas and are enrolled as students in the Universities across United Kingdom and who were required to get letters from the High Commission in order to board flights to India, which could is not possible due to the lockdown.

Mridul's plea argues that while all the other countries are taking steps to repatriate their citizens from foreign countries amid the global pandemic, India purportedly is the only country that has "imposed an embargo on the return of its own citizens."

India with its travel bans has made it impossible for its own citizens to come back home.

While the Indian authorities have taken various measures to contain the possible spread of the virus apprehended from inbound travellers, including mandatory quarantine and restrictions on their movement, preventing their return to India is violative of their rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, the petition asserts.

The petitioner further makes her case by highlighting the worrisome situation in the UK as regards the COVID-19 pandemic at the moment and the ensuing lockdown. It is said that while students lodged at University campuses have been assured that they would not be evicted, many students in private accommodations do not have such assurances and are unable to pay their rents and manage their sustenance. The petition adds,

"Given the present circumstances, the students’ lives are at great risk without the basic necessities to sustain themselves. Many of these students are running out of finances and facing shortage of food and water. They have not been able to access any protective masks, gloves or sanitizers and are worried about contracting the deadly virus while miles away from their loved ones in India."

According to the petition, the stranded students had approached the Indian High Commission in the UK. However, no steps have been taken for their repatriation as of yet.

Placing reliance on news reports, Mridul says that the governments of Germany and UK have sought for their citizens in India to be repatriated. In view of the same, Mridul proposes that the carriers used for ferrying these foreign nationals may be used to bring back Indian students stranded in the UK as well.

The Supreme Court today directed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to take instructions on the issue and fixed the next date of hearing in the matter on April 13.

The petition has been filed through Advocates Astha Sharma and Nupur Kumar. The petitioner was represented by Advocate Sunil Fernandes.

WRIT PETITION_Madhurima Mridul v. UOI & Another (1).pdf
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