SC notice on plea to evacuate 850 Indian pilgrims from Iran

Amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown to contain coronavirus outbreak, the Supreme Court on Friday conducted a hearing through video-conferencing and issued a notice to the Centre on a plea for immediate evacuation of around 850 Indian Shia pilgrims from the city of Qom, the Iranian epicentre of Corona outbreak.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant issued notice to Centre on the evacuation of pilgrims from Iran, which is among the worst hit by Covid-19, with a death toll of over 2,000. According to the petitioner, these pilgrims, hailing mainly from poor financial backgrounds, were scheduled to return to India weeks back.

The matter will come up for further hearing on March 30.

The apex court order came on a petition filed by Mustafa M.H. whose three relatives are stranded in Iran. Senior advocate Sanjay Hedge, arguing the matter on behalf of Mustafa through video conferencing, contended before the court that pilgrims are stranded in Iran without any health/medical facilities and food supplies.

He added most of pilgrims have ran out of funds and are dependent upon the philanthropy of the locals.

“Besides, they have been accommodated in hotel rooms in groups of 4-5. It is extremely important to note that the situation of spread of corona is extremely critical in Iran. In fact, there may be as many as 250 people within the group of pilgrims who could be positive for corona. In such a situation, accommodating persons together is a serious health hazard and could lead to disastrous consequences,” said the petition.

The petition contended that if urgent help is not provided to these pilgrims, there are bound to be serious health hazards, which have started to become fatal and has resulted in the death of 2 pilgrims already.

The petition said: “The petitioner (Mustafa) is constrained to move this court in extreme exigency under Article 32 of the Constitution of India praying inter alia for issuance of an appropriate writ, order or direction including writ of mandamus for immediate evacuation of the citizens of India who are stranded in Iran, in view of the situation arising out of the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The plea sought direction from the top court that pilgrims are evacuated immediately from Iran, and till such time the Centre should make arrangements to provide adequate health and medical support. “The Centre be directed to ensure that the passengers are quarantined in a manner prescribed by the WHO,” said the petition filed through advocate Ashish Virmani.