Coronavirus (Covid-19): The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Wednesday issued an order allowing inter-state movement of stranded migrant labourers, students, and tourists, four days before the second phase of lockdown is scheduled to end.
“Due to lockdown, migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons are stranded at different places. They would be allowed to move,” the MHA order issued by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said.
The MHA stated that this has to be done through mutually-agreed terms between two states and the movement has to be carried out in sanitised buses with required social distancing. Only asymptomatic people would be allowed to travel and a second assessment of their health would be made upon their arrival in their home state. Based on this, they would be kept in home or institutional quarantine upon arrival.
The guidelines make no mention of trains, which were among the modes of transport being discussed for transportation of migrant workers.
However, MHA said in a statement, “New guidelines to fight Covid 19 will come into effect from 4th May, which shall give considerable relaxations to many districts. Details regarding this shall be communicated in coming days.”
Notably, many states had raised this issue during the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Ministers. The Centre had been urged to come up with guidelines so that labour extraction could be carried out in a streamlined manner.
Under the existing lockdown guidelines, this was not allowed until now, even though states such as UP and MP had begun extracting students from Kota in Rajasthan almost a week back and UP began transporting migrant labourers a couple of days ago. States such as Bihar had protested and even shot off a letter to the Centre saying the extraction of students from Kota was in “utter violation of national guidelines”.
The move comes in the backdrop of increasing inability of states to sustain migrant labourers in their states even as revenue sources dry up. There have also been frequent instances of violent labour agitations in Maharashtra and Gujarat in recent days with migrant workers demanding to be transported back home. Maharashtra has openly demanded for the arrangements to be made for inter-state transport of labourers.
According to an affidavit filed by the government in the Supreme Court on April 12, nearly 16.5 lakh workers are living in shelters provided by their employers, while 14.3 lakh migrant workers have been provided shelter in close to 38,000 camps built by states and NGOs. Additionally, 1.34 crore people are being given free food through over 26,000 food camps across the country.
The order also comes at a time when both the Centre and states plan to increasingly open more sectors in the economy for operation. Many states have said they would like to open the economy completely in green zones after May 3. The MSME sector, notably, is heavily dependent on migrant labourers. With workers heading home, several industrial sectors in cities could be negatively impacted.
Notably, on April 19, after industries flagged the issue of their inability to provide in-situ accommodation to workers or arrange their transport, MHA had allowed intra-state movement of migrant labourers in buses to their workplace. It had asked local authorities to do skill mapping in camps and transport the migrant workers to a suitable workplace. It had, however, prohibited inter-state movement of labourers.
In its latest order on Wednesday, the MHA said: “All States/ UTs should designate nodal authorities and develop standard protocols for receiving and sending such stranded persons. The nodal authorities shall also register the stranded persons within their States/ UTs. In case a group of stranded persons wish to move between one State/ UT and another State/ UT. the sending and receiving States may consult each other and mutually agree to the movement by road.”
It has also asked states falling in between these states to allow the passage of such persons.
“On arrival at their destination, such person(s) would be assessed by the local health authorities, and kept in home quarantine, unless the assessment requires keeping the person(s) in institutional quarantine. They would be kept under watch with periodic health check-ups. For this purpose, such persons may be encouraged to use Aarogya Setu app through which their health status can be monitored and tracked,” the MHA order has said.
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