The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to file its response in a plea seeking immediate evacuation of Indian students stranded in the United Kingdom amid nationwide lockdown in both countries to contain the coronavirus outbreak, PTI reported. The petition sought directions for the government to use flights ferrying British nationals from India to the United Kingdom to evacuate the students.

A bench comprised of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao told the Centre to take note of the instructions, and scheduled the matter to be heard on April 13.

The plea, filed by advocate Madhurima Mridul, claimed that to “pass a blanket order of preventing an Indian citizen from returning back to his homeland” was violative of the students’ fundamental rights. It further suggested that instead of banning students from coming back, the Centre could consider quarantining them upon their return instead, and impose other “reasonable restrictions” to avoid the spread of infection.

The petition demanded that the Indian High Commission in London should be directed to provide Indian students accomodation, along with adequate healthcare and medical support as prescribed by the World Health Organisation, till the government made arrangements for their evacuation. It argued that students face a greater risk of getting infected as they are living in packed hostels with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities amid the lockdown.

“Surprisingly, India is probably the only country that has imposed an embargo on the return of its own citizens,” the petition said. Citing examples of China, Spain, Italy, Iran and the United States, the petition said that while other countries are making “all possible efforts” to repatriate their citizens stranded in various countries, India with its travel bans, “has made it impossible for its own citizens to come back home”.

The United Kingdom has recorded 52,301 cases of the coronavirus with 5,385 deaths so far, according to according to a tracker by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, the number of positive cases worldwide crossed 13.59 lakh, including over 75,000 deaths.

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