Vande Bharat Mission: Numbers behind the largest civilian evacuation in history

Ravikanth Nandula Hyderabad | Updated on October 28, 2020

Indian residents who arrived from New York on a Vande Bharat Mission flight   -  THE HINDU

The mission surpasses India’s large-scale airlifting of 1,10,000 people in 1990, at the onset of the Gulf War

With the seventh phase of the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) set to begin from October 29, as announced by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, it is time to look at what the Mission achieved in the first six phases.

The Mission was launched on May 7 to evacuate Indian citizens stranded abroad after the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdowns across the world. Considered one of the largest evacuations of civilians by a country, it involved repatriations by air, land and sea.

Apart from bringing Indian citizens back to the country, the Mission consisted of facilitating travel to people who want leave India on account of nationality, residency or work commitments.

As of October 26, more than 20 lakh people availed travel arranged by the Mission, according to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Most of the home-comings were by air. The airlifting was supported by ships under Operation Samudra Setu, conducted by the Indian Navy, which carried back 3,987 people. A further 1,75,501 people were evacuated by land.


Phases of VBM

The first phase of the VBM, which lasted for 11 days from May 7-17, was aimed at destinations with high concentration of Indians. While it included all three modes of transportation, air travel accounted for the most, with 64 flights carrying 12,708 people into the country and an equal number of flights catering to 3,562 outbound passengers.

There was an incremental rise in the number of flights operated in subsequent phases, with the ongoing Phase 6 flying the most number of flights across the phases when it concludes on October 28. As of October 26, the phase carried out 1,606 flights.

Air India, which carried out the bulk of air transfers under the mission, has operated a total of 7,659 flights as of October 26, with 3,828 inbound flights and 3,831 flights outbound. A total of 6,23,739 passengers were carried into the country and 3,68,951 people were provided travel on the flights leaving the country.

Countries involved

While overseas Indians from as many as 93 countries have availed repatriation through the VBM, the government has entered into special travel arrangements called ‘air travel bubbles’ with 18 different countries so far. The Netherlands will join the pact from November 1 as the 19th country. Reciprocal in nature, the bilateral pact aims to benefit airlines from both countries with faster repatriations.

Most Indians returning home were from the United Arab Emirates, with more than 4.5 lakh repatriations, followed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with 1.63 lakh and 1.04 lakh respectively. Outside the Gulf region, The US accounts for the most, 77305 people, and the United Kingdom, 39141.

States-wise repatriations

Going by the data provided to the Parliament by Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan, Kerala has received the most number of repatriated Indians so far. The State has had 3,72,053 people returning, followed by Delhi (2,28,705), Uttar Pradesh (1,16,009) and Tamil Nadu (1,10,246). At the bottom of the table is Dadra and Nagar Haveli, with 41 returning citizens.

The VBM is the largest civilian evacuation conducted by a country in the world. It surpassed its own large-scale airlift of 1,10,000 people in 1990 at the onset of the Gulf War, which was considered the largest such effort before 2020.

Globally, though, the US and the EU have moved more swiftly in their repatriation efforts and have started airlifting their citizens as early as January 2020. Going by available numbers, the US has brought home 101,000 citizens, and the EU 2,50,000, by the end of May 2020.

Published on October 28, 2020

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