SC asks Centre to consider repatriation of 250 pilgrims from Iran
Scores of Ladakh residents, students from JK stranded
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to actively consider repatriation of 250 Indian pilgrims, who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are stranded in Qom of Iran, at an appropriate stage as it commended the proactive steps taken by the Indian embassy there.
The top court noted that Centre had made arrangements for providing food and shelter to these individuals and the government would in due course facilitate their safe repatriation to India, consistent with its overall approach to prevent, control and contain the spread of COVID-19 within India.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah, which took up a PIL for hearing through video-conferencing, said that the status report indicates that the Union Government has been seized with the safety and welfare of the two hundred and fifty pilgrims as, indeed, of other Indian nationals in Iran.
“We have been assured on behalf of the Union Government that so long as the pilgrims continue to be in Qom, steps would be taken by the Indian Embassy to ensure that they receive such assistance as is required for their safety and welfare,” the bench said.
It further said, “we expect that the issue of repatriation of these pilgrims be actively considered by the Union Government at the appropriate stages in terms of the assurance provided in the status report. The proactive steps taken by the Indian Embassy in Iran under the auspices of the Ministry of External Affairs need to be commended.”
The bench took on record the status report of the Union of India and said that it indicates that nearly 750 persons, out of the batch of 1,000 pilgrims who had proceeded to Qom, have been brought back to India pursuant to the arrangements made by the government and steps were taken for drawing samples of the remaining pilgrims for testing.
The samples were brought to India for being tested at the National Institute of Virology, Pune. While the Indian citizens who are presently stranded in Qom would have to be repatriated, the stages in which repatriation takes place would have to depend upon the prevailing circumstances which will be evaluated on a case to case basis, the bench said.
It also noted the submission of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that 250 pilgrims, who are presently in Qom, have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are relatives of those persons who have voluntarily decided to stay back in Qom, together with those who had tested positive.
The bench said that the Solicitor General has stated that the Indian Embassy in Iran has taken all possible steps to ensure their welfare by making arrangements for medical and other assistance.
The status report of the Centre said that there were 6,000 Indian nationals in various provinces of Iran, including 1,100 pilgrims from Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir and state of Maharashtra, 300 students from Jammu and Kashmir, 1,000 fishermen from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Gujarat and other persons who were granted long term visas for pursuing their livelihood and religious studies.
The status report said that the pilgrims were mainly residing in Qom city; students in Tehran, Shiraj, Esfahan and Kish cities; and fishermen in Asaluyeh, Chiruyeh and Kish cities of Iran.
The bench also noted the submissions of senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for petitioners including Mustafa MH that he does not seek a peremptory direction of this Court requiring the return of the batch of 250 pilgrims at this stage since in the very nature of things, the issue as to whether it is appropriate for them to travel back to India will have to be evaluated on a case to case basis.
Petitioner Mustafa MH, a resident of Union Territory of Ladakh, has said in his plea that some of his relatives had travelled to Iran along with a group of about 1,000 pilgrims in December last year.
Hegde suggested that the Union Government may consider arranging a special flight for the return of the two hundred and fifty pilgrims to India but they may be quarantined on returning home.
The bench, while disposing of the petition granted liberty to the petitioner and to any other aggrieved person to approach the court afresh for revival of proceedings.
Iran is one of the countries worst affected by the pandemic and has reported over 2,000 deaths so far due to coronavirus. (PTI)