Srinagar, Mar 9: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday made a surprise visit to Kashmir and met parents of students stranded in coronavirus-hit Iran as well as tourism industry representatives, assuring both groups that the government was seized of their problems and all would be well.
Jaishankar, whose visit was kept under a veil of secrecy, drove straight from the airport to the Kashmir International Convention complex, where around 100 parents of students stranded in Iran had gathered.
Those gathered at the complex said they were unaware about who they were supposed to meet. They said they received calls from the office of the divisional commissioner of Kashmir asking them to come for a meeting.
“Met in #Srinagar the families of Indian students in #Iran. Assured them that our Embassy @India_in_Iran is monitoring their welfare. We are committed to facilitating their early return to India,” Jaishankar tweeted.
An estimated 300 people from Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are currently stranded in Iran. These include students, pilgrims and other residents.
The parents asked the minister that if students from China could be brought back why there was a delay in case of Iran, officials attending the meeting said.
According to the officials, the minister informed the parents that elderly and pilgrims would be brought back first, followed by students. Besides, he made it clear that anyone airlifted from Iran would be sent to a quarantine centre for 14 days of isolation.
Meanwhile, hours after Jaishanker’s Kashmir visit, the government decided that a military transport aircraft will fly to Iran on Monday night to bring back Indians stranded in the coronavirus-hit nation, official sources said.
The C-17 Globemaster military aircraft is expected to depart from the Hindon airbase Monday evening, they said.
The aircraft is scheduled to return Tuesday and land at the Palam airport in Delhi.
The sources said a medical team will be on board the aircraft along with the air crew.
Once they land, all those on board the flight will first go through medical checks and then shifted to the quarantine facility set up by the Army in Manesar, near Delhi.
The external affairs minister also met representatives of the Kashmir hoteliers’ association, the tour and travel operators” association and the house boat association.
In a tweet, the minister said, “Heard a clear message from them that they were ready for the forthcoming tourist season. Promised them that Govt would strongly support tourism promotion efforts, domestically and internationally.”
The representatives claimed they were asked to assemble at the venue to meet a finance team coming from Delhi to assess the current situation.
There was complete misinformation from the government and many of the associations had not come prepared, one of the hoteliers said, adding, “We came with out balance sheet which reflects losses and nothing else.”
Tour operators” association member Nasir Shah, who attended the meeting, said they raised the issue of losses suffered by the industry after the lockdown of August 5 last year, the day the Centre withdrew the special status of the erstwhile state and bifurcated it into Union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
Officials said the Union minister assured the tourism industry representatives of “strong support” from the government to make 2020 a successful season.
Shah said the representatives of the industry asked for pro-active measures from Jaishankar”s ministry in withdrawal of travel advisories issued by various foreign countries in the aftermath of the developments of August 2019.
“He (Jaishankar) has assured help to us and ensure that our plight reaches the right corridors of the government. Other than this, we can only hope,” he said.
The minister also met top Army officials, including Lt Gen B S Raju, and then went to Baramulla in north Kashmir where he met with locals.
In a tweet, he said, “Interacted with the local community in #Baramulla. E-inaugurated a number of projects. Heard from a broad cross-section about their strong expectations of change and developmental progress. Confident that their faith in a better future will be realised.”
Jaishankar also visited the Regional Passport Office in Srinagar and took stock of its functioning.