In a plea seeking evacuation of Indian students stranded in medical colleges in Bangladesh, the Ministry of External Affairs has informed the Delhi High Court that the Indian Ambassadors are interacting with the Indian community through virtual platforms for their engagement in the time of crisis and to provide assistance.
'Indian nationals and communities are being mobilized to help fellow Indian in distress in their country and wherever possible, the Missions are providing food, accommodation etc to stranded Indian citizens', MEA's status report states.
The information was provided during an urgent hearing before the Division Bench of Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva and Justice Navin Chawla.
Appearing for the MEA, Mr Jasmeet Singh submitted that a COVID-19 cell has been formed to ensure greater access and precision of information. Sub-groups dealing with different regions of the world has also been created. Missions/Posts abroad have been advised to set up dedicated helpline numbers and given wide publicity to the same to assist stranded Indians.
He further stated that Nodal Officers have been identified and designated at each Mission/Post to provide assistance to Indian nationals abroad and a 24 x 7 helpline number and an email have been made functional for the said purpose and the helpline numbers and email IDs have been widely publicized through social networking sites, official government websites so that Indians abroad get information regarding the same.
Mr Singh also went on to inform the court that a large number of Indian students are studying abroad and the missions are in constant touch with their Universities/educational institutions for rendering assistance to those students.
To highlight the specific steps taken by the Ministry for students stranded in Bangladesh, the court was informed that a 24 x 7 helpline was established on 15.03.2020 to address all queries of Indian citizens and Indian community and regular information is being shared through website and social media platforms of the Mission and the four Assistant High Commissions in Bangladesh and timely information regarding various travel advisories are being issued to the students community through social platforms on the daily basis.
The status report states that:
'Educational institutions were closed in Bangladesh, all local Bangladeshi students have left for their homes and only foreign students including Indian students remained back and the High Commission has contacted the concerned authorities in the colleges to keep the canteens/mess running and make available any resources within their capacity to ensure the well being of Indian students and all authorities have responded positively and confirmed that all means of assistance, cooperation and support shall be provided for the well being of Indian students.'
In terms of the sheer magnitude of the situation, the court was informed that there are 114 medical colleges in Bangladesh and around 6000 Indian students study in these colleges and approximately 500 Indian students have stayed back in Bangladesh.
Continuing on this issue, Mr Singh submitted that most of the medical colleges are attached to hospitals. In case of any emergency these hospitals are best equipped to deal with the situation. Moreover, colleges in Bangladesh are trying to provide basic facilities to all the students who are in the hostels. However, where any Indian student reaches out to the High Commission, they are being counselled and provided necessary help.
Mr Singh further submitted that in addition to the existing nodal officer, the First Secretary (Education) has been nominated as an additional nodal officer to provide assistance to the students in Bangladesh and he has contacted one student each of each of the medical colleges as per the list provided by the Petitioner and also the principals of the medical colleges individually.
The contacted medical colleges have assured their fullest cooperation during this period and some of the principals of these colleges have even visited the residential facilities of the students to check their well being.
'...with regard to food and facilities, a majority of the students are availing mess facilities, however, some students have on their own volition started running their own mess because of social distancing', Mr Singh stated.
In light of these submissions, the court disposed off the petition by noting that there's no need to pass any further directions.