Congress general secretary KC Venugopal on Tuesday termed as "inhumane" the government's decision to "impose excessive costs" on NRIs and expatriates for bringing them into the country from COVID-19-affected nations.
He demanded that the central government fly in the poor and vulnerable free of cost while charge the others with normal fares instead of high costs.
"The central government's decision to impose excessive costs on NRIs flying in special flights from the Covid-affected countries is an inhumane act," he said in a statement.
Venugopal said it was due to protests by a large number of expatriates and their relatives as well as the general public over the past few days that the central government took the decision to bring back Indian citizens from abroad.
"However, it is cruel that the Central government has taken advantage of this plight of expatriates by increasing the price of air fares up to three times. This is inhumane," Venugopal said in his statement.
He urged the Centre to take urgent steps to provide free travel to the most vulnerable, unemployed, sick and pregnant women and to others on normal fare.
Air India will operate 64 repatriation flights for a week from May 7 while the Navy deployed two ships as India rolled out a massive evacuation plan on Tuesday to bring back thousands of its nationals stranded abroad due to the coronavirus-triggered lockdown.
Those availing the repatriation flights will be charged, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told a virtual press conference in New Delhi. A passenger on a London-Delhi flight will be charged Rs 50,000 and on a Dhaka-Delhi flight Rs 12,000, he added.
From the Gulf countries to Malaysia and the UK to the US, the multi-agency operation christened 'Vande Bharat Mission' will see the state-owned airline operate the non-scheduled commercial flights till May 13 to ferry around 15,000 Indian nationals from 12 countries.