Bom HC | 19-year-old girl stranded at Dubai Airport due to misinterpretation of travel advisory issued by Govt. of India in wake of COVID-19 to be issued fresh visa to return to Mumbai

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of S.J. Kathawalla and R.I. Chagla, JJ., issued a writ of mandamus directing respondents to issue a fresh visa to a 19 year old girl stranded at the Dubai Airport so as to enable her to come to Mumbai and be with her family, in view of Airlines misinterpreting the travel advisory issued by the Indian Government.

The present petition was filed as petitioners daughter — Nyla was denied a visa in the teeth of the Consolidated Travel Advisory for Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) issued by Government of India through Ministry of Health and public Welfare read with restriction related to COVID-19.

Petitioner was constrained to file the petition in view of the high-handed, arbitrary and wrongful action on the part of respondent 1 and 2.

Petitioner’s daughter was born in U.S.A and this is a citizen of U.S.A, though she moved to India in 2007 and did her schooling from Mumbai and later got admission for further studies at Tufts University, Boston.

Nyla holds an OCI Card and also had valid 5 year multiple entry visa along with an Aadhaar Card.

Senior Counsel representing the petitioner submitted that in wake of Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, Nyla’s University directed the students staying on campus to vacate the same and return to their permanent residence. For the same purpose her return travel was arranged by the petitioner.

Indian Government had issued a Consolidated Travel Advisory for Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) imposing restrictions on travel by foreigners to India. All the existing visas (excluding diplomatic, official, UN/International Organisations, employment, project visas) were suspended till 15-04-2020. Visa free travel facilities granted to OCI card holders were also kept in abeyance.

Further, he submitted that, in light of the aforesaid visa restrictions imposed by the Indian Government and to ensure that Nyla arrives in India before the restrictions became effective, petitioner modified her reservations and arranged a flight on 12-03-2020.

During Nyla’s transit at Dubai Airport, she was not allowed to board the flight based a complete wrong interpretation of the Consolidated Travel Advisory dated 11-03-2020 read with Visa Restrictions related to COVID-19. According to the airlines, Nyla was already past the deadline.

Thus, in view of the above, writ petition was filed.

In accordance with the issued advisory, petitioner’s counsel submitted that it was clear that as long as the passenger departing from its original port of departure before 12:00 GMT (5.30pm IST) on 13-03-2020 the passenger would be entitled to complete the journey and thereafter arrive into Mumbai.

In the present case Nyla made her departure from original port before 12:00 GMT (5.30pm IST) on 13-03-2020, she should not have been denied boarding by the Airlines at Dubai as she was only a transit passenger.

Thus, in view of the above, Court considered the compelling and urgent circumstances, it is expedient to dispose off the present writ petition. Clauses of the Consolidated Travel Advisory as well as the Visa restrictions issued by the Bureau of Immigration makes it clear that all existing visas (excluding diplomatic, official, UN/International Organisations, employment, project visas) stand suspended till 15-04-2020. The said restriction was to come into effect from 1200GMT on 13-03-2020 at the port of departure.

A Passenger in transit would not fall within the word ‘port of departure’.

Court stated that in the present circumstances, Nyla can travel to India is she is issued a fresh visa. The visa can be issued only for compelling reasons as more particularly stated in the issued advisories.

Therefore, the Court held that Nyla was wrongly denied boarding by the Airlines and thus writ of mandamus is issued directing the respondents either through themselves or through any one acting through them to issue a fresh visa to the petitioner’s daughter Nyla so as to enable her to come back to Mumbai.

Petition is disposed of in the above terms. [Sabah Manal Colabawalla v. Union of India, WP (L) No. 871 of 2020, decided on 17-03-2020]

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