Coronavirus Outbreak & Liability of State to bring home struck Nationals
The 2019 Novel Wuhan Coronavirus (Covid-19) which originated from the Wuhan district of China has now spread globally and infected nearly 96,500 people and has claimed the lives of over 3,300 people globally. The global pandemic, as reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has no diagnosis till date and though the survival rate is quite high, yet stringent measures need to be taken both at the micro-level and the macro-level to fight the virus. Owing its similarity to the SARS and the potential threat caused by it, the countries across the world evacuated its citizens stranded in Wuhan and other parts of China, thereby putting its citizens on a higher pedestal and the first priority. India, very bravely, sent two special Air India flights to Wuhan and evacuated over six-hundred Indians. Also on the two Air India flights were a team of engineers, doctors and some officials.
In the landmark judgement of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India [A.I.R. 1978 S.C. 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621, the seven-Judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, held the “right to travel abroad” as a Fundamental Right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. However, in the Indian context, the question emerges, is whether the State is legally liable to evacuate its citizens during global epidemics such as the Coronavirus, more so when the virus spreads in a human to human transmission form?
Statutorily or Constitutionally, the Government of India is not “liable” or “mandatorily obliged” to evacuate its citizens, but yet, evacuation of one’s own citizen is a moral duty casted upon the Government and therefore, rescue operations have been carried out for various reasons such as – outbreak of war, global health emergency, political turmoil etc. on numerous occasions by the Government of India on humanitarian grounds. More specifically, the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India undertakes rescue cum relief operations when the situation is International in nature.
For example, in the year 2015, the Government of India executed one of the most challenging evacuation operations in the war-zone of Yemen, where it rescued citizens from India and twenty-six other nations. In fact, India was requested by countries such as Bangladesh, France, Germany, Sri Lanka, the United States of America among others to evacuate its citizens from Yemen. Again during 2015, the Indian Army participated in a relief cum rescue mission from the Earthquake-hit Nepal.
The Government can assist all Indian Nationals residing and/or living abroad, including the Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). The Government may also assist Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) and the Overseas Card Holders, under special circumstances.
Apart from rescue and relief operations, the Government of India provides aid during/in-
a) Registration of births, deaths and marriages of Indian Citizens.
b) Replacement of passports, emergency certificates and other necessary documents.
c) If a person is arrested in a foreign land, then the Indian Embassy of the appropriate jurisdiction can contact his/her family and provide consular assistance subject to the laws of the concerned foreign country.
d) Assisting during medical emergencies such as the current situation of Coronavirus. This could also mean exporting medical aid to the citizens.
e) Providing financial assistance in certain emergencies.
f) Providing help in cases of a serious assault.
g) Arrangements for evacuation during civil disturbances, natural disasters and International terrorism.
What steps should the Indians stuck abroad must take?
a) By contacting the local Embassy/Consulate one can avail Emergency consular assistance. The contact details of all Indian Consulates or Embassies is given on the official website of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.
b) One can contact the Consular Passport and Visa Division of the Ministry of External Affairs through the official website of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.
c) Complaints/Grievances on Consular Services could be registered on the MADAD Portal provided on the official website of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, or the MADAD Mobile App. One could also dial the toll-free helpline no. provided on the said website.
d) For the Indian workers who intend to migrate abroad, the Pravasi Bhartiya Sahayata Kendras (PBSK) and the Kshetriya Pravasi Bhartiya Sahayata Kendras (KPBSK) can assist them.
Here is the official website of the Ministry of External Affairs – https://mea.gov.in/
Indians stuck overseas must also ensure that they keep a photocopy of all the pages of the Passport and ensure that they don’t lose either of them. If lost, immediate intimation providing relevant details of the Passport is very crucial. You must have a full name, address, a telephone and/or fax number of your foreign employer (for employees) before leaving in India, along with an employment contract.
India being a “Welfare State” as mentioned in the Constitution of India executes welfare function for its citizens which are in India or abroad. Although there exists no law or statute domestically whereby the Indian Government is under a direct obligation or is legally liable to bring back it’s citizens who are struck abroad, however, India being a “Welfare State” is under a direct moral obligation to bring back its citizens from abroad.
This, the Indian citizens cannot claim their evacuation from a foreign country or territory by way of a legal right, however, the evacuation is being repeatedly done by the Indian Government.
Authored By: Adv. Anant Sharma & Mayank Barman