Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Tuesday said all registered expatriates from Kerala in the Gulf region who want to return should be brought back and poor blue collar workers must not be charged by the government for the journey.
The Thiruvananthapuram MP's remarks come a day after the Home Ministry said plans to bring back Indians stranded abroad due the coronavirus pandemic have been chalked out by the government and the process will begin from May 7 in a phased manner. The Home Ministry also said it will be a paid service.
Tharoor, who held an interactive session with some NRIs in the Gulf on Monday, said one major wish is that Kerala must bring back all registered 'Pravasis' as soon as possible so that before the rains start in early June and viruses spread, Kerala can be back to normal.
"Otherwise we will face a health and economic disaster," he said in a tweet.
He urged Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to speak with the central government and get Air India, local airlines and naval ships to offer many services daily to finish repatriation in the next 20 days.
"They should not charge poor blue collar workers, many of whom have not been paid for a month, for this either," Tharoor said.
"It was bad enough that poor migrant workers within India were charged to return home when they didn't even have money to eat. Doing the same to poor pravasis whose remittances kept our economy afloat in hard times would add insult to injury. Yet that's what the government intends to do," he said.
Tharoor also said it was wrong to restrict repatriation only to essential or emergency cases.
"Let everyone who needs to come back for whatever reason do so. Returning home is a human right for any Indian citizen. Other democracies have accepted this principle in evacuating their nationals," the former minister of state for external affairs said.
If in initial flights, priorities have to be observed, pravasi representatives have asked for people with mental and physical disabilities to be included in high priority lists, Tharoor said.
Also, insisting on Covid-free certification is neither practical nor necessary since arrivals must be isolated anyway, he said.
"For the indigent, if the state government can pay 50 per cent of the fare, there are Non Resident Keralite volunteer organizations like OICC/INCAS & KMCC who can cover the remaining 50 per cent. If Centre refuses to waive charges, state government should use this method of covering 50 per cent of the ticket fare + seek donations," he tweeted.
Tharoor, in his tweets, also raised the issue of pregnant women with tickets to travel home in March for delivery in May/June are disallowed on commercial flights with late-stage pregnancy.
NRIs have appealed to the central government to arrange a special "medical flight" for pregnant women who cannot afford to deliver abroad, he said.
The Home Ministry has said only people showing no symptoms of Covid-19 will be allowed to travel.
After arrival in India, their medical examination will be conducted and they will be subsequently put under quarantine for 14 days, either in a hospital or in an institutional facility, also on payment basis, it has said in a statement.
According to an estimate, the number of Indian nationals stranded abroad could be in lakhs.
Their travel would be arranged by the government by aircraft and naval ships.