The Orissa High Court on Thursday said only those migrants who test negative for COVID-19 should be allowed into the state, forcing the state government to immediately cancel permission given to other states, including Gujarat, to transport stranded labourers by train.
A bench of Justices S Panda and K R Mohapatra, while hearing a petition on the return of migrants, said, “State government should ensure that all the migrants who are in queue to come to Odisha should be tested negative of COVID-19 before boarding the conveyance”.
The order is expected to disrupt the return of thousands of migrants, some of whom are on their way to the state. Five trains that were to leave from Friday with migrant workers from Surat to Odisha have been cancelled.
Surat District Collector Dhaval Patel said, “We got information from Odisha government officials that they have cancelled the NOC (no-objection certificate). As per High Court orders, all passengers should be tested negative and then they should be sent to Odisha. It is impossible for the local administration to carry out medical test of such a large number of passengers.”
Patel said that over 500 people are tested for coronavirus in Surat. With 799 cases as on Thursday, Surat is a hotspot and has the second highest number of cases in Gujarat.
According to Odisha’s Information and Public Relations Department, Ganjam district saw a spike in coronavirus cases after 17 people who returned from Surat tested positive. Odisha’s coronavirus count reached 219 on Thursday evening.
Nearly three lakh workers, mostly from Odisha’s Ganjam district, work in diamond cutting and textile units in Gujarat’s Surat. They started coming back to Odisha after the Centre allowed movement of migrant labourers during the ongoing lockdown. The first train from Surat to Odisha was flagged off on May 2, and 16 trains have left for Odisha from Surat carrying 19,200 people.
The sudden cancellation of trains have put in limbo the people who had packed their bags for the journey back home, after the lockdown severed income and transport links.
Odia leader and ex-BJP councillor from Surat’s Sachin area Bhagirath Behra said, “There are lakhs of Odia people staying in Surat who will face problem. There are many people staying in rented house in Surat and they have collected back deposit from the house owners. The Odia people will be forced out on the streets. The situation is critical.”
Surat city has seen four incidents of violence since the first phase of lockdown in March when migrants came out on the streets demanding transport back home and better food.
Odisha Advocate General Ashok Parija did not respond to a request for comment on whether the state plans to appeal the order.
According to the Odisha government, 4,225 migrants from different states arrived in Odisha on Thursday, and a total of 49,765 since May 3. The state expects at least 5 lakh people to return.
Any migrant who wishes to enter the state has to register on a government portal. Upon arrival, they are taken to a quarantine centre in their native locality where they have to spend 14 days. There have been reports of disturbances in this entire process, with some returning migrants getting out of buses and walking home in order to avoid quarantine.
Apart from Ganjam, three districts — Jajpur, Bhadrak and Balasore, and Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) area in Khurda — are classified as red zones. There are 10 orange and 14 green zones in the state.
(With inputs from ENS Gujarat)
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines