Migrant labourers, students, pilgrims or tourists who do not have symptoms of coronavirus can return to their home states now, the Centre says, issuing a set of guidelines nearly five weeks after the announcement of the countrywide lockdown that left thousands stranded. The order comes a day after the Centre was asked to respond to the issue by the Supreme Court, which was hearing a set of petitions asking those migrant labourers who do not have Covid-19 be allowed to go home. The Centre has already allowed Uttar Pradesh to ferry back its migrants from Haryana a move that led states like Bihar and Jharkhand to question its lockdown guidelines that froze road, rail and air transport and asked states not to allow homebound migrants labourers across their borders.
In its order. The home ministry has asked states to appoint nodal bodies and draw up protocols for the movement of stranded people. “The moving person(s) would be screened and those found asymptomatic would be allowed to proceed,” the government said. After arriving at their destination, they will have to stay in home quarantine for 14 days, unless institutional quarantine is advised, the order said.
Buses will be allowed for the interstate movement of the people and they should be sanitised between trips, the order reads. The rules of social distancing should be maintained in the seating arrangements.
The order comes less than a week before the lockdown is scheduled to end. On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a fourth video-conference with Chief Ministers of around 10 states, where an exit plan from the lockdown was discussed. Several states, including Punjab and Bengal, have however said they need to extend the lockdown in view of the coronavirus situation.
Sources said the decision to allow stranded people to go home came after pressure from within the BJP. There were concerns that the migrant crisis could damage the party politically and feedback to this effect was given to party chief JP Nadda during a virtual meeting with MPs and MLAs.
On Monday, the Centre told the Supreme Court that it was “very much concerned” about migrant labourers. “The government is consulting with states on how many have to be transported … We are taking all kind of steps,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had said.
Uttar Pradesh became the first state to take action, transferring more than 12,000 migrant workers from Haryana over the weekend. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said he was also planning to bring back students who have been stranded in Rajasthan’s Kota, a city known for coaching centres catering to aspirants for all kinds of competitive exams.
Yogi Adityanath’s move has upset neighbouring Bihar and Jharkhand. A BJP ally, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his government maintain such large-scale movement of people are completely against the principles of social distancing and lockdown, which alone can contain coronavirus at the moment. Many of his party’s leaders are also unhappy about what they call the “double standards” of the central government.
The lockdown was announced by PM Modi on March 25, leaving thousands of migrant labourers across the country stranded and vulnerable. With jobs and in many cases, shelters gone, many tried to make their way home on foot. Some did not make it, collapsing hours away from home after the hard trek, often without enough food or water.
As the movement from cities to villages turned into an exodus, throwing to the wind all rules of social distancing and raising concerns about the infection spreading, the government asked the states to seal borders and keep those who broke lockdown in 14-day compulsory quarantine.
The Centre had assured that migrant labourers will be looked after by the states where they were located. But the situation on the ground indicated otherwise, with reports of hunger coming in from various corners of the country. In the national capital, people were seen queuing up for lunch since dawn outside the relief centres. In Surat and Mumbai, the migrants held violent protests, demanding that they are allowed to go home.
Former Finance Minister and senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram welcomed the government’s decision to allow inter-state movement of migrant workers and students after testing and demanded sanitized trains point-to-point to move a large number of workers.
Chidambaram in a series of tweets said, “I welcome the decision of the government to allow inter-state movement of migrant workers and students after testing them by bus. This has been a demand of the Congress since mid-April.”
“Buses alone will not be sufficient. It is better to run sanitized trains point-to-point to move the large numbers who desire to migrate back to their home states,” he said.
This marks a major development in the opening of the lockdown as hundreds of thousands of workers are stranded at shelter homes in far-off places, away from their homes. All the states and UTs should designate nodal authorities and develop standard protocols for receiving and sending such stranded persons.
Such persons will be screened and those found asymptomatic will be allowed to proceed. Buses will be used for transporting groups of people. The buses will be sanitised and will follow safe social distancing norms for seating.
The states falling on the transit route will allow the passage of such persons to the receiving state or UT. On arrival at the destination, such persons will be assessed by the state health authorities and put under home quarantine unless the assessment requires keeping them under institutional quarantine.
The Delhi government is in touch with other state governments and will take a decision on the movement of migrants in a day or two, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Wednesday.
“The Union Home Ministry issued an order on the migrants on Wednesday. We are talking to other state governments. We will inform you in a day or two after all the planning. Until then, stay at your home and follow the lockdown,” Kejriwal tweeted in Hindi.
The Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday said stranded migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, and students will be allowed to move with conditions during the lockdown, directing the states to designate nodal authorities and develop standard protocols for receiving and sending the stranded persons.
An MHA spokesperson said: “All persons to be medically screened at source and destination; and kept in-home/institutional quarantine on arrival”, as per the guidelines of Union Ministry of Health.
Thousands of migrants were stuck due to sudden announcement of lockdown.
The 21-day nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25, which has now been extended till May 3.
Inter-state borders connecting Delhi to the neighbouring states have been sealed, which is now causing problems in the movement of workers engaged in essential services.
As strict protocols are being followed to allow entry and exit through the Delhi-Faridabad Border, many people are sent back from the border.
Khushboo who works at Hind Labs in Delhi’s R.K. Puram area, said, “We are carrying our ID cards, yet they are not allowing us to go. If this remains the case, how would we help the public at large?”
Arun, who works with Apollo Pharmacy and is engaged in the supply of medicines, said he is in medical line but is not being allowed to go to his home in Faridabad. “Our passes are not being considered. We are repeatedly told that we don’t have permission. We are not being allowed to go to our homes,” he said.
Another person engaged in essential services of dairy products, Narendra, said, “I am not being allowed to go to Faridabad, where I have my cattle.”
Neighbouring Haryana sealed it borders recently and imposed strict restrictions on the movement of people and vehicles to and from the borders.
The total number of Covid-19 cases in the country mounted to 31,787 on Wednesday evening, with 1,813 cases and 71 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Union Health Ministry stated. This takes the total recovery rate to 24.5 per cent.
“We sealed the interstate borders in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. We are allowing the essential services so that normal public does not face any inconvenience,” Faridabad ACP Dhaarna Yadav said.
She said trucks carrying essential services are being allowed and the locals have been advised to get their treatment done in nearby hospitals.
“There are many people who are roaming without any urgent reason. People should not come out of their home without any reason”, she said.
“I understand that a small section of the population is being inconvenienced, but we have to understand that these are challenging times for the nation. All of us should adapt to new circumstances. There is no need to panic.”