Concern in House over plight of Indians in Libya

New Delhi: Members, including those from ruling Congress, on Friday voiced concern in Parliament over the plight of Indians in troubled Libya and the slow evacuation process, prompting the government to promise that it would make all efforts to bring back all the Indians safely.

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs and Civil Aviation Vayalar Ravi said the government had pressed into service six aircraft besides ships to bring back the Indians and facilitate free onward journey of the evacuees to their final destinations in this country.

More flights would be operated if necessary, he said.

"The government shares the concern. Since last week and more, we have made all arrangements to bring back the Indians," Ravi said in the Lok Sabha after members raised the issue of the countrymen facing problems, including threat to life. In the Rajya Sabha also, members voiced similar concerns.

The Minister said the government had pressed into service three Air India planes and "summoned" even aircraft of private airlines for evacuation purposes.

AI, which has special permission to land in Tripoli, is operating flights directly to and fro the Libyan capital where 8,000-10,000 Indians are based, Ravi said.

Private airlines do not have permission to land in Tripoli and are operating out of Alexandria, he said.

"We are doing our best. We will bring all Indians back. We will not leave behind anybody there. We can assure (the House)," he said.

When some members said the evacuees are pennyless after reaching India, Ravi said they are being given free air tickets for onward journey to their homes, if the distance is more than 500 kms.

At this point, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said the railways will ferry the evacuees free of cost from airports to their final destination.

Earlier, Sis Ram Ola, Congress member from Rajasthan, raised the issue, saying he was getting frantic calls about life threats being faced by people from his constituency Jhunjhunu and other Indians in Libya.

He said the government should anyhow bring back all Indians and the bodies of those who have died in Libya.

He wanted a response from the government and was immediately joined by a number of other members.

Sudip Bandhopadhyay of UPA ally Trinamool Congress said innocent people were being killed in Libya and the government should do something.

Sanjay Nirupam (Cong) said it was a national crisis.

Banerjee also seemed to be supporting these members.

Harin Pathak (BJP) congratulated the government for making the arrangements but said the evacuees have no money to travel onwards to their homes after landing in India.

Members in the Rajya Sabha also expressed anguish over slow progress in the evacuation and safety of Indians in Libya.

The grave concern expressed by members prompted Deputy Chairman K Rahman Khan to direct the government to apprise the House today itself of the latest steps being taken to bring the Indians back from Libya.

Tiruchi Siva (DMK) was very forceful to get the response from the government.

He was agitated when the Chair reminded him that he could only associate with P Rajeev (CPI-M) who raised the issue during Zero Hour.

"Our people are stranded. You (Chair) are bothered about time. You are not permitting to express our views," he said.

He was supported by several senior members from BJP, BJD, SP, AIADMK, NCP and Left parties.

Siva said that in the backdrop of the ultimatum, the Chinese and the Philippines have already evacuated their nationals. "Why is the progress slow on the Indian side," he asked.

Rajeev said India has sent only one or two ships and planes for the evacuation and that there was no proper monitoring of the situation.

He said besides Tripoli, people have also been stranded in other cities and it was difficult for them to reach the Libyan capital by road.

Sensing the mood, the Chair directed that the government come out with a statement before the Houses rose for the day because of the urgency of the situation.

Khan said, "The whole country is concerned about our people who are suffering. There is a concern over slowness (in bringing them back)."