Migrants workers who have lost jobs, have little money, are desperately trying to raise the additional funds
Anish Kumar, a stranded Keralite in Oman, had got Rs 15,000 from a charity group to purchase a ticket to fly home in a Vande Bharat Mission Air India evacuation flight.
But now he needs to find Rs 18,000 more if he wants to fly home.
“I have been jobless for the last three months. I am struggling even for food. A charity group is providing me food. They are paying my rent. Now, I can’t understand why Air India has increased the airfare,” Anish asked.
Thousands of Indians like Anish are stranded in the Arab Gulf countries after losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 led economy crisis. In a bid to bring home the stranded Indians from all over the world, the Indian government rolled out an evacuation plan titled Vande Bharat Mission.
The first flew on May 07 and till June 05, in Phases 1 and 2, around 65,000 Indians were brought back home in 354 flights.
In Phase 3, some 300 flights are being planned.
If economy airfare to Kerala from Oman was OMR 75 (Rs 15,000) in the first and second phases, it is now OMR 170 (Rs 33,000) in an email sent to a passenger by Muscat Air India office.
Even though The Lede wrote to the Air India office in New Delhi, Oman and Indian embassy in Muscat seeking clarification on airfare hike, we have not got a reply at the time of publication.
However, a senior official in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi told The Lede that “MEA doesn’t have anything to do with the airfare.”
Meanwhile, Indians in Saudi Arabia told The Lede that Air India fares have been hiked there too.
“The price was Rs 19,000 in the first two phases. Now, it has been made Rs 34,000. Why is this Indian government hurting us like this?” Lateefh Thechy, an Indian social worker, asked.
“Many are in a dire situation. Salary cut, job loss, unpaid leave, and COVID-19 infection has made people mentally stressed. When they are planning to somehow fly out from these risky zones, the Indian government has increased the airfare,” Lateefh added.
Interestingly, Air India’s new fares are higher than even of chartered flights operated from the Arab Gulf.
A week ago, the Indian government had allowed organisations and companies to operate chartered flights to fly Indians home.
Following this, different organisations have already operated half dozen-chartered flights with low airfare.
Chartered flights operated by organisations in Oman had set the price at OMR 75 (Rs 15,000).
When there were allegations that airfare of Air India is higher than chartered flights, on June 04, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted a poster with fare comparison of prices to prove that Air India fares were lesser.
“Some people have raised concern about rates being charged by @airindiain for special Vande Bharat flights. While rates being charged are not normal commercial rates, they are reasonable when compared to evacuation flights of other countries on the same sectors,” Singh’s tweet read.
However, an aviation industry expert told The Lede, such comparisons are illogical because chartered flights fly empty while returning from India.
“Air India is not flying empty. It is taking people who are flying out of India,” the aviation industry expert said.
Ministry of Civil Aviation data reveals that in both phases Air India has flown out 16,000 passengers from India.
Other than permitting IndiGo to fly on certain routes in Vande Bharat Mission, the Indian government has banned other airlines from flying after the national lockdown.
The number of COVID19 positive cases has crossed 200,000 in six Gulf Cooperation Council countries with some 1200 deaths. Among the 1200 deaths, data collated by social organisations claim that around 185 deaths are of Keralites.
Meanwhile, the Kerala government has revised its earlier guideline, which mandated seven days of institutional quarantine followed by seven days of home quarantine.
The government has now stated that all expatriates returning from abroad can directly go for a 14-day quarantine period at their homes without spending a day at the government’s institutional facilities.
Those who do not have adequate facilities at their homes for quarantine can choose to stay at institutional premises arranged by the government.
In an order issued on May 02, the disaster management department stated that all ‘residential facilities/dwelling units identified and approved by the district administration and/or local self-government shall be treated as institutional quarantine facilities.’
The decision was taken following a meeting of the state executive of the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) on May 27.
It said the order was issued in the light of the guidelines of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for international arrivals.
On Saturday, 108 fresh COVID-19 cases were recorded in Kerala. The tally of confirmed cases in Kerala is now 1807.
For the first time, the number of active cases in the state crossed the 1000 mark. There are 1029 COVID patients undergoing treatment Kerala.