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New Delhi: Now that the Narendra Modi government has begun repatriating Indians stuck abroad, the country’s rich have begun sending in applications to return using private jets, ThePrint has learnt.

According to sources, in the last one month, the Ministry of Home Affairs has received over 20 applications from private charter operators, requesting clearances to fly back to India from various international and domestic locations.

The pending applications include those from Sahara India chief Subrata Roy, Bharti Airtel head Sunil Bharti Mittal, and Essel Group/Zee Media chairman Subhash Chandra. While Roy’s son is said to be stuck in Colombo, Sri Lanka, a family member of Chandra is stranded in Dubai, sources in the home ministry said.

ThePrint reached the spokespersons of Roy, Mittal and Chandra through calls and messages.

While Mittal’s spokesperson refused to comment, Chandra’s and Roy’s teams did not respond to the query. The report will be updated when they respond.

The Modi government had, in an advisory issued on 16 March, prohibited travel from member countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and the United Kingdom to India, with effect from 18 March. Then, on 22 March, the ban was extended to all countries as the government prohibited all international commercial flights from landing in India.

“The rules laid down by the MHA are very strict and are being followed strictly. We cannot allow any chartered flight to land, unless they have permission from MHA,” a government official said.

A second government source said the operation of these chartered flights are not allowed because the government is reluctant as people coming from abroad could be carriers. But with international flights now starting to repatriate Indians, the government may reconsider its decision, the source added.

“Now we have started the flights to repatriate Indians stuck abroad but that too we are doing with extra caution. The private jets could be allowed in the near future (in phases) once we are ready to deal with the traffic. No decision has, however, been taken till now,” he said.

Also read: Why Air Force won’t be a part of India’s massive Covid evacuation for now

Permission only for emergencies

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has also received several requests from private chartered plane operators, but none of them has been cleared until now.

“The DGCA is not clearing any such flights at the moment. The applications are scrutinised, and if it is an emergency situation, the MHA gives the approval directly,” the second source said.

“Private charter operators are constantly enquiring whether it is permitted,” this source said, adding: “For now, air travel has only been allowed to inter-ministerial teams, doctors, air ambulances and paramedics. No non-essential travel has been allowed.”

Last week, an Indian businessman, Rajnish Gupta, chartered a plane from Zambia and reached India with his cook, Suresh Kumar Baheliya. However, they were not allowed to de-board, and were eventually sent back.

“They came to India without any clearance or permission, and so were sent back as we are strictly adhering to the guidelines issued by the government,” said the first official quoted above.

Also read: India plans to expand repatriation from 15 May to bring back citizens from more countries

An expensive ride

The cost of travel by a private jet can be as high as $200,000 (over Rs 1.5 crore), depending on where it is coming from, but that has not deterred those willing to return home.

“The ride can cost anywhere between $50,000 (approximately Rs 38 lakh) for a four- to five-hour flight and $200,000 (approximately Rs 1.5 crore) for a longer flight, say from the USA. If someone is coming from London, then it will cost around $1,50,000 (approximately Rs 1 crore),” said Kanika Tekriwal, founder of New Delhi based JetSetGo, a private jet operator.

“It indeed is expensive, but people are still booking their slots on these planes and sending us requests,” the second source quoted above said.

“Many of these plane operators are also demanding such high amounts as so many clearances are required, and the demand is only for flying one-way,” the source added.

Tekriwal, however, said the rates are constant. “Covid or no Cobid, these rates are constant.”

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