In an indication of its plans post-May 3, when the current phase of the lockdown ends, the Centre Wednesday said there will be “considerable relaxations” in many districts.
The Union Home Ministry also issued guidelines for movement of stranded migrant labourers, students and tourists who want to return home. Sources, however, said this will not apply to those in hotspots or containment zones.
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In a statement, the Ministry said, “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.”
Curbs are expected to be eased in districts where cases are tapering. The Health Ministry has identified 129 of the country’s 736 districts as hotspots. On April 15, at the end of the first lockdown, 177 districts had been notified as hotspots.
The order allowing inter-state movement of those stranded comes almost a week after states such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh began transporting their migrant labour and students stuck in other states. Wednesday’s order said, “Due to lockdown, migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons are stranded at different places. They would be allowed to move.”
Incidentally, at a video-conference meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, which comprise a large chunk of the migrant labour numbers, had expressed their inability to facilitate their return home without guidelines from the Centre in this regard.
Releasing the new guidelines, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said the movement of those stranded should be arranged through mutually agreed terms between states, on sanitised buses, with required social distancing. Only asymptomatic people will be allowed to travel and a second assessment of their health would be done on their arrival in their home states. Based on this, they would be moved to either home or institutional quarantine.
Following the order, Minister of State, Home, G Kishan Reddy urged people not to panic or come out on the roads. “I request all students and migrant labour to stay where you are. You don’t have to come to any centre or some square. It might take a couple of days, even a week, but be patient. Don’t put pressure on police. Buses and drivers have to be arranged. Please follow the orders issued by local authorities.”
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The existing lockdown guidelines make no allowance for inter-state movement, but the Centre had kept quiet as states recently moved ahead with arrangements to get back their students and migrant labour. Bihar had shot off a letter to the Centre at the time, saying the transportation was in “utter violation of national guidelines”.
The latest guidelines, however, make no mention of trains, which were among the modes of transport states had suggested for large-scale movement of migrant workers.
The move comes as states are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain migrant labour, with work and revenue sources drying up. There have been several instances of migrants desperate to get home resorting to violence in Gujarat and Maharashtra. The Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra had sought arrangements for inter-state transport of labour.
However, the move might end up further impacting plans to open up the economy, which is struggling to do so with the few relaxations announced. Many states have said they would like to open the economy completely in green zones after May 3. The MSME sector, for example, is heavily dependent on migrant labour.
Notably, on April 19, after industries flagged that it was impossible for many of them to provide in-situ accommodation to workers or arrange their transport — one of the prerequisites for opening up by the Home Ministry — the Centre had allowed intra-state movement of migrant labour in buses to their workplace. It had also asked local authorities to do skill mapping at migrant camps so as to transport them accordingly to a workplace. It had, however, prohibited inter-state movement of labour.
In its order 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 also asked states falling in between 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 said.
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 put up in close to 38,000 camps arranged by states and NGOs. Additionally, 1.34 crore people are being given free food in over 26,000 camps across the country.