Goans stranded abroad for months, especially in the Persian Gulf nations, because of the suspension of international flights since March 22 due to lockdown restrictions, which were enforced to contain the spread of the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, have decided to return home by chartered flights, as the government’s Operation Vande Bharat mission’s Goa leg has left a lot to be desired.
Operation Vande Bharat mission, which is the country’s biggest evacuation exercise since the then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, is being operated by the national carrier, Air India.
Three chartered flights from Sharjah and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait – both Persian Gulf nations – carrying 517 stranded Goans have landed at the Goa International Airport in Dabolim a few days ago.
Another seven-eight chartered flights are expected to repatriate around 1,000 stranded Goans from the UAE, including Sharjah and Dubai, and other Persian Gulf nations such as Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, etc.
“We have been waiting for months to get back home. Many have lost the jobs because of the Covid-19-induced economic slowdown and can’t stay on in Qatar any longer. Many have other challenges and going back home is the only viable option under the circumstances. Initially, we had petitioned the government and even registered our names with the Indian Embassy in Doha and also the Goa government for the official repatriation process under Operation Vande Bharat,” John de Sa, a Goan working in Qatar, told HT over the phone from Doha.
De Sa along with other stranded compatriots such as Sawan Naik, Tina Fernandes have chartered an IndiGo flight that is scheduled to repatriate them to Goa on July 8.
Similarly, 161 stranded Goans, including Seby Noronha and Carmo Santos, in Kuwait, had also chartered an IndiGo flight that brought them back to their home state on June 26.
“Flights were being arranged for all states, except Goa. We’re left with no option but to make our own arrangements,” Noronha said.
Valencio Rodrigues has emerged as the Good Samaritan, as he is relentlessly liaisoning between the state and central governments to ensure that chartered flights have all necessary permissions such as landing rights, adequate quarantine facilities for incoming passengers etc.
Rodrigues squarely blamed the Pramod Sawant-led Goa government for its inaction, as the harried stranded passengers are made to cough up exorbitant sums of passage fare to get back home.
“The state government should have been doing this. If I, as a layperson, could do this, what has the government been doing for all these days amid the pandemic?” Rodrigues asked.
“The government was passive, despite several pleas from the stranded Goans. The government officials even refused to share the list of the stranded people, as the civilians took it upon themselves to ensure their safe repatriation back home,” Rodrigues alleged.
Vande Bharat flights to Goa have been few and far between, as only three flights have landed to date.
Shipping and cruise companies have also been arranging chartered flights for their employees.
But many are still dependent on Vande Bharat mission flights, as they don’t have the financial means to afford chartered flights, whose fares are prohibitively expensive.
Typically, it costs between Rs 30 and 40 lakh to charter a flight from a Persian Gulf nation to Goa, irrespective of the number of passengers.
The organisers have to ensure that there are enough passengers for a chartered flight to make it economically viable while factoring in last-minute cancellations.
“There are multiple challenges. Yet, we took the risk and committed our own funds in a bid to ensure that those who are worst hit could get home at the earliest,” Noronha said.
“We have been guided by the humanitarian cause amid these hard times,” Rodrigues added.
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