Vyalar Ravi, minister for civil aviation and overseas Indians told rediff.com that the Indian Navy's warships are going to Libya only to escort the hired ships that would be bringing back Indian citizens being evacuated from the troubled country. He said, "Navy ships will only escort other ships."
Ravi insists that the Indian government was not at all slow in responding to the crisis. He refutes the charge that many Indians trapped in the Libyan disturbances are feeling insecure without prompt help from the Indian embassy.
Ravi said that on February 20, a special cell was formed in New Delhi and the coordination of all the concerned ministries was sought.
Ravi said that a friend from Dubai alerted him in afternoon of February 20 to help 18 Indian nurses trapped in Libya. Ravi immediately talked to one of them and had soon contacted Indian Ambassador M Manimekalai to take stock of the situation.
Ravi then spoke to T K A Nair, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who in turn called Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. On Sunday evening, Ravi also called S M Krishna, minister for external affairs. Krishna called A K Antony, defence minister, to chalk out a plan to help Indians stranded in Libya.
On Sunday, when Rao spoke to Ravi, she informed him that she was already in touch with the Indian ambassador in Tripoli.The efforts were already on to plan the evacuation, if needed.
On Sunday, Rao told Ravi about the need for an emergency plan. A small group of senior officers of the defence ministry, ministry of external affairs and ministry of overseas Indian affairs was formed to tackle this crisis.
While talking about the ongoing plan of evacuating Indians from Libya, Ravi said, "The evacuation of Indians is underway. Already, the Scotia Prince, a hired ship, has left for Benghazi to pick up Indians. It should reach there by Monday. Air India has kept more than four flights ready to pick up passengers coming by ship to Egypt. We are ready to fly to Libyan cities if the Libyan government gives us
Ravi said that there was a dely in evacuating Indians from Libya as India didn't have a civil aviation agreement with Libya.
While responding to allegation that Indian government's response was slow he said, "How can you evacuate 18,000 Indians who are scattered all over the country? It is dangerous to move on the streets. The Libyan government allowed some 30 flights to land in the first couple of days but then it stopped. The Benghazi airport is closed. In Tripoli, bombing is on. It's a disturbed place. This is not a case of floods or such natural calamities. This is something more serious. Street fights are on. It will be difficult for the embassy staff to move, also. We are sending more people to help the embassy in Tripoli."
Talking about nurses trapped in Benghazi Ravi said, "All 18 nurses are trapped in one hotel and all of them are from Kerala. A friend from Dubai told me about them. I called her to ask what the problem was. She told me that when they were all returning to India they were attacked but, somehow they could escape and now they are in a hotel in Benghazi. She said there are 180 nurses from Kerala working in Libya."
The Indian embassy has issued an advisory to Indians that they should not come out of their homes.
Ravi also said that his ministry is in touch with Gulf countries. He said, "So far, Indians in Saudi Arabia has faced no problems. Indians based in Bahrain and Doha also say that they are not affected. Dubai has not seen any protests."
Ravi agreed that Indians in Libya might be facing a food crisis because they are unable to move out. Punjabis, Tamils and Keralites dominate the Indian presence in Libya.
Ravi said evacuation will be free of charge because MOIA has started Overseas Indians Community Fund to meet such emergency expenses.
Ravi affirmed, "As I said, we have no civil aviation agreement with Tripoli. Our planes can't go and land there so people will have to wait till we ship them out. We are expecting co-operation. Our ambassador is saying that Libyans like Indians and there is pro-India sentiment over there. The Libyan government is helping us, too."