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Passengers at Abu Dhabi Airport ready to board a special flight to Kochi under the Vande Bharat Mission. Image Credit: ANI

Dubai: As more Indian expatriates prepare to fly home in the coming days, new online procedures that will kick in from the midnight of August 8 will have to be adhered to. Today also marks the completion of three months of the Vande Bharat Mission, India’s largest repatriation exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Consul General of India Dr Aman Puri addressed several questions on how the new procedures will make a difference to registrations, whether Indians can fly home for summer vacation and what is required of those who register but don’t fly. Excerpts:

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Gulf News: What are the new online procedures to be followed by Indians flying home?

Aman Puri: From 12am on August 8, all Indians returning home are required to submit a self-declaration form on the online portal of New Delhi Airport at least 72 hours before the scheduled travel.

Irrespective of the airport they are flying into, they should give an undertaking on the portal that they would undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days (seven days’ paid institutional quarantine at their own cost, followed by seven days at home).

Passengers should also submit the relevant documents such as a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR report on the same site if they wish to avail an exemption from institutional quarantine.

Registration on the portal will open from 00:01 hours on August 8, 2020. However, authorities have been requested to take concerns of travellers into account.

With regard to uploading the negative result of the COVID-19 test that has to be taken within 96 hours of boarding, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has said that if passengers do not get the certificate before boarding, they can show it on arrival. However, they can apply for exemption online and upload proof of test mentioning that they are waiting for the result to arrive.

Q. Why are people required to register twice? What are the differences in these online procedures?

A. Registration on the portal of the New Delhi airport is independent of the registration on the website of the consulate. We are preparing a database of the Indians leaving from here, while the new online procedure in India is particularly related to quarantining the passengers from across the world.

Q. With this new online procedure, will the missions here be stopping the registration on their sites?

A. No. We will continue to register people on our website. We are required to collect the data of the people flying back, and convey these details to the Ministry for updating the states for making necessary logistical arrangements for these passengers. There is no change in the registration process on our website. We will continue to register people on the CGI website.

Q. Can any Indian expat fly home now on VBM flights even without any emergency and for vacation back home? Should such people also register with the missions?

A. For one’s own safety and for the safety of one’s family, this is not the time to travel for a vacation or tourism. Since the booking for VBM flights is now online, any Indian can book his/her ticket online and fly on these flights after registering. They don’t have to wait for the call from the mission. However, we expect that people will refrain from undertaking unnecessary travel, and would travel only if it is urgently required for them to go to India. This will also help others who are really in distress and want to leave the UAE urgently. All those people who desire to fly on the VBM, and other flights are required to register with the missions.

Q. What are the procedures for registration? Do people still have to mention compelling reasons?

A. Indians desiring to register for repatriation flights can register on the website of the consulate [or the embassy]. In the registration form, the field of compelling reason is required to be filled mandatorily. As mentioned earlier, people are expected to avail of repatriation flights only when travel is unavoidable.

Q. Since the airlines are now selling tickets, will the missions continue to reserve 25 per cent tickets for emergency cases as announced earlier?

For one’s own safety and for the safety of one’s family, this is not the time to travel for a vacation or tourism. Since the booking for VBM flights is now online, any Indian can book his/her ticket online and fly on these flights after registering

- Dr Aman Puri, Consul General of India

A. The decision to sell the tickets for VBM flights online was taken on the basis of feedback from the community, and the volunteers that most of the needy people and emergency cases had already flown to India. This was also based on the feedback we received from the people who had registered for repatriation but were not willing to travel when we called them and offered them a seat on VBM flights. In cases, where plenty of flights are available, we keep only five to 10 seats for the Consulate for emergency requirements and make them available for online booking 24 hours before the flight schedule. As regards 25 per cent seats on some sectors, they are allotted on a day-to-day basis to emergency cases who approach the consulate. We would like to reiterate that, only in some high demand sectors where demand from blue collar workers is more, we keep 25 per cent of the seats.

Q. Is there any other mechanism to help people who might still be falling in the category of people with emergency reasons?

A. As mentioned earlier, we are able to take care of such emergency cases from the seats kept for the consulate. For others, who are not able to book themselves, may write us through the helpline tab on the consulate’s website and our team will contact them. People are also being encouraged to avail of the services of charter operations by the UAE and Indian carriers to travel to India.

Q. What if someone who has registered with the missions changed his or her mind? Should they inform the missions and get their registration cancelled?

A. There is no such need to inform us.

Q. What happens if expats who went home want to come back?

A. Those who want to come back to UAE can travel only if they fulfil the requirements of coming to UAE as stipulated by UAE and Indian authorities.

Q. Do they have to inform the missions that they are coming back or came back and remove their registration details from the database?

A. There is no such requirements.

Q. What if someone wants to come back for resigning from the job and then fly home for good once again?

A. As on date, all resident visa holders are required to obtain GDRFA/ICA approvals before boarding from India. Once they are here, they are free to cancel their visas and return back to India.

We are able to take care of emergency cases from the seats kept for the consulate. For others, who are not able to book themselves, may write us through the helpline tab on the consulate’s website

- Dr Aman Puri, Consul General of India

Q. Do such people have to register again for flying back home?

A. There is no requirement of registering again. In fact, our portal will display the message that the person is already registered if he /she tries to register again.

Q. How long will the registration by the missions continue?

A. We will keep registering the people as long as the VBM flights are operated.

Q. Will it stop when India and the UAE launches the ‘Air Bubble’ between the two countries?

A. It will depend upon the provisions of the Air Bubble agreement. The need for registration will be assessed when such a development takes place.

Q. What happens when the ‘Air Bubble’ starts?

A. At this stage, we can say that a number of flights are being operated between India and the UAE and vice versa. Air Bubble is a formalisation of the agreed terms, but even before that, there are plenty of flights operating including VBM, Indian and UAE carriers both ways.

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Passengers waiting to get inside Dubai airport Terminal-2 for the first Air India Express repatriation flight to Kozhikode in Kerala. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Q. How long can we expect the Air Bubble agreement to last?

A. As on date, the scheduled commercial operations are not allowed till August 31, 2020. Therefore, such agreement is expected to continue till August 31, 2020.

Q. How many VBM flights and how many charter flights have operated from the UAE so far?

A. Till August 4, 339 VBM flights have been operated by Air India and Air India Express from Dubai, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah to various airports in India. During the same period, a total of 1,041 chartered flights and private jets have also operated.

Q. How many people have flown on these charter flights?

A. 1,87,455 people have flown to India on chartered flights.

Q. How many charter flights have been operated by community organisations and how many were operated by companies?

A. It is difficult to distinguish between company and community chartered flights as many times, community chartered have ferried workers from companies and sometimes, companies have also taken workers or travellers from other companies to form alliance for hiring a charter.

Q. Since when have the UAE carriers and private airlines from India allowed to operate charter repatriation flights by selling tickets without the need for chartering by community organisations or companies?

A. It has been more than two weeks now.

Q. Can you comment about the role played by community groups and businessmen in helping stranded expats fly home during the pandemic?

A. Firstly, we would like to thank UAE authorities and UAE carriers to support Government of India’s repatriation efforts. UAE has more than 3.4 million Indians, and the community organisations have played an important role not only in our VBM operations but also in helping stranded people in hiring community chartered flights. A number of Indian businessmen have come forward in sponsoring tickets for several people and also provided shelter and food for needy people. CGI Dubai is thankful to all of them as such a large scale repatriation was not possible without active support of each one of them.

Q. Can we have details of some of the major players among them with the number of flights they facilitated or passengers they sponsored?

A. Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre and its different chapters, Indian Association Ras Al Khaimah, Indian Association Ajman, Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara, Indian Relief Committee, Ras Al Khaimah, Indian Association Sharjah, Indian People’s Forum, People of Indian Origin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Norka Roots, Dubai Tamil Sangam, Tamil Ladies Association and several other community organisations facilitated chartered flights for stranded Indians. Several individuals also supported and it is difficult to name each of them but we are extremely grateful to them too.