In a surprise move, the United States on Monday restricted charter flights from India under the “Vande Bharat Mission” accusing New Delhi of engaging in “discriminatory and restrictive practices”, a statement by the Department of Transportation said.

The transportation department has said that a foreign air carrier of India “will be required, effective 30 days after the service date of this order, to obtain prior approval from the Department in the form of a statement of authorization before operating any Third and/or Fourth Freedom charter flights to or from the US”.

It alleged that even as Air India Ltd. has been making flights to repatriate its citizens during the Coronavirus pandemic, it also has been selling tickets to the public.

“We are taking this action because the government of India has impaired the operating rights of US carriers and has engaged in discriminatory and restrictive practices with respect to US carrier services to and from India,” it added.

Air India is currently the only foreign air carrier of India that holds the Department authority to conduct operations to/from the US with its own aircraft and crew.

The Department further said that “this restrictive and discriminatory treatment of US carriers as regards charters has important implications in the area of scheduled operations as well”.

The DoT also alleged that the Indian government has “imposed restrictions that prevent US air carriers from making full use of these charter rights” according to the statement.

Washington, however, has “not placed any limitations on US–India charter operations, and Air India has been and remains free to conduct the full complement of passenger charter services”.

On March 25, the Indian government had suspended all scheduled passenger services in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

It, however, launched the ”Vande Bharat Mission” — the largest and most complex exercise ever undertaken by a government — on May 7 for the repatriation of Indian nationals stranded overseas. The first phase was conducted between May 7 and May 13.

The second phase of repatriation got underway from May 16 till May 22.

The third phase of the Vande Bharat Mission to bring back Indians stranded overseas due to the Coronavirus induced lockdown got underway on June 11 and will continue till July 2.

Meanwhile, Monday’s development comes after the US transportation department restricted Chinese airlines from flying into the US.

Washington had earlier this month ordered the suspension of all flights by Chinese airlines into and out of the United States after Beijing failed to allow American carriers to resume services to China.