The Supreme Court has praised the Centre for bringing back 750 Indian Shia pilgrims stranded at Qom, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, and asked to evacuate "at an appropriate stage" 250 more of them, who have tested positive for the virus.
A bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice M.R. Shah said: "We expect that the issue of repatriation of these pilgrims be actively considered by the Union Government at the appropriate stages in terms of the assurance provided in the status report. The proactive steps taken by the Indian Embassy in Iran under the auspices of the Ministry of External Affairs need to be commended."
The Centre on Wednesday informed the Supreme Court it has already facilitated the return of 1,142 Indians -- 787 pilgrims, 219 students, 136 others "under intense operational constraints after restrictions were instituted for public health reasons in Iran, where it was difficult to organize transport, accommodation and other logistics". The report said 750 persons out of the batch of 1,000 pilgrims who had proceeded to Qom have been brought back to India.
The Centre said 250 pilgrims, who are presently in Qom, have either tested positive for Covid-19 or are relatives of those persons who have voluntarily decided to stay back in Qom, together with those who had tested positive.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta contended that the Indian Embassy in Iran has taken all possible steps to ensure their welfare by making arrangements - food and shelter -- for medical and other assistance. "The status report indicates that the Union Government will in due course facilitate their safe repatriation to India, consistent with its overall approach to prevent, control and contain the spread of Covid-19 within India," observed the top court.
The bench said it has been assured that as long as the pilgrims continue to be in Qom, steps would be taken by the Indian Embassy to ensure that they receive such assistance as is required for their safety and welfare.
"Steps were taken for drawing samples of the remaining pilgrims for testing. The samples were brought to India for being tested at the National Institute of Virology, Pune. While the Indian citizens who are presently stranded in Qom would have to be repatriated, the stages in which repatriation takes place would have to depend upon the prevailing circumstances which will be evaluated on a case to case basis," observed the court disposing of the writ petition.
The order came on a plea filed in the apex court for immediate evacuation of around 850 Indian Shia pilgrims from the city of Qom.
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