The Vande Bharat Mission (VBM), which started repatriating Indians stranded abroad due to Covid-19 and the resultant lockdowns since May 2020, has become one of the largest evacuations of civilians by a country.

Important points:

  • It is the biggest civilian evacuation exercise to bring back Indian citizens stranded abroad amidst the coronavirus-induced travel restrictions.
  • It has surpassed the large-scale airlift of 1,77,000 people in 1990 at the onset of the Gulf War.
  • The mission is undergoing its 10th phase and has carried 32 lakh passengers approximately both inbound and outbound.
  • National carrier Air India, alongwith its budget carrier Air India Express (AIE) carried out the bulk of air transfers under the mission.
  • AIE used its fleet to lift agricultural products, mainly fruits and vegetables (the most sought-after items among the NRI Indians), to West Asian countries, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
  • Besides, helping distressed rural farmers and the NRIs, the aim of the mission is to keep the supply chain intact.
  • 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.
  • Transport bubbles or air travel arrangements are temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended as a result of the pandemic.
  • It allows carriers of both the countries to fly passengers either way without any restrictions.
  • Reciprocal in nature, the bilateral pact aims to benefit airlines from both countries with faster repatriations.
  • Due to a recent spurt in Covid-19 cases in the country and many countries of late, patronage has come down in the VBM flights.

Evacuation from the Gulf (1990-91):

  • Until VBM, India’s evacuation of civilians from Kuwait during the 1990-91 Gulf war had been the world’s largest evacuation exercise of civilians by air.
  • Around 1,77,000 Indians were caught in the war which left millions homeless and many dead. Air India, at that time, operated around 500 flights over two months.
  • It was launched by the Indian Armed Forces, to evacuate 4,640 Indian citizens and 960 foreign nationals of 41 countries from Yemen during the 2015 Yemen Crisis.
  • The evacuation took place both by sea and the air.
  • The rescue and relief operation was carried out by the government of India and Indian armed forces in the aftermath of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake.
  • The Indian Armed Forces evacuated around 5,188 persons, while nearly 785 foreign tourists were provided transit visas.
  • It was launched by the Indian government on 26th February, 2011 to evacuate its citizens, fleeing from the Libyan Civil War.
  • The air-sea operation was conducted by the Indian Navy and Air India. Around 15,000 civilians were rescued in the operation.
  • It was an operation carried out by the Indian Navy to evacuate Indian, Sri Lankan and Nepalese nationals, from the conflict zone during the 2006 Lebanon War.
  • It was one of the largest evacuations conducted by the Indian Navy in which a total of 2,280 people were evacuated.


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