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MEA sends bus for stranded foreigners in Bengal, UP; triggers panic in Darjeeling

New Delhi/Darjeeling: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of the COVID-19 lockdown till May 3 and tens of thousands of labourers arrived at Mumbai's Bandra railway station hoping to return home, a mini-bus authorised by the Ministry of External Affairs left for Darjeeling from the Capital — aiming to bring around 20 foreign nationals to Delhi, from where they are to board a special evacuation flight to Spain.

However, the arrival of the bus in Darjeeling's Clubside motor stand near the Capitol Clock Tower on Wednesday morning led to confusion in the Hill town, with many people snapping pictures and videos of the bus with foreign nationals and posting it on social media, which eventually led to the arrest of a youth under sections of the Disaster Management Act, according to the local police.

A similar incident had created mild panic among residents in Guwahati on Monday when a bus with five foreign nationals had arrived from Manipur.

According to documents accessed by Millennium Post, the Embassy of Spain in New Delhi had requested Indian authorities to assist the movement of their nationals stranded in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to Delhi, from where they will be flown out to their country on the night of April 19. The bus left for Darjeeling from Delhi on April 14 and would return to the national Capital via Siliguri, Varanasi and Luckow.

A senior government official involved in coordinating the evacuation of the Spanish nationals said the government had assisted nationals of many other nations to reach the destined airport from where their countries could pick them up. "It is based on the Embassy's discretion. So, we have assisted many such foreign nationals to reach airports in Goa, Bengaluru, Mumbai and other cities, where their respective nations said they could pick them up from."

In fact, officials said on Wednesday that around 3,700 foreign nationals had been evacuated on special flights from Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport alone since the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown began.

The ministry had on April 13 written to the DGPs of West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to make sure that the bus carrying these 20 foreign nationals for evacuation is facilitated in its movement. The letter was also marked to the Delhi Police Commissioner.

According to a senior official with direct knowledge of the matter, the bus would drop these stranded foreigners at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, from where special flights facilitated by the Embassy would take them to Europe. "There have been several such evacuations so far across the country. The Embassy requested our assistance and we are doing whatever we can to help them," he said.

Officials here said one special flight carrying foreigners is already scheduled to depart IGIA on April 16 and that the Spanish nationals on their way to Delhi from UP and Bengal would board the flight scheduled to depart on April 19.

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