NEW DELHI: Four days before the lockdown 2.0 is supposed to end, the government on Wednesday allowed migrant workers, tourists, students and other people stranded in different parts of the country to move to their states, fulfilling the long-pending demand of lakhs of distressed people.
Announcing the relaxation with certain conditions, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) directed the states and union territories to designate nodal authorities and “develop standard protocols for sending and receiving such persons”. In an order, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said buses shall be used for transport of such groups of stranded people and these vehicles will be sanitised and will have to follow safe social distancing norms in seating.
“Due to lockdown, migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons are stranded at different places. They would be allowed to move,” Bhalla said. The nodal authorities shall also register the stranded persons within their states and union territories, the order stated. It further said, “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.” However, MHA did not specify whether a person or a family can travel in a private vehicle, and if allowed, under what conditions.
The decision of the central government will be a big relief to several lakh migrant workers, students, tourists and other people who are stranded in different parts of the country. While the number of students and tourists stranded in the country is not known, earlier this month, MHA had told the Supreme Court that over 10.3 lakh migrant workers are housed in relief camps run by state governments or NGOs. As per the labour ministry sources, there are at least 20 lakh migrant workers stranded away from their native places and this, when the labour ministry is yet to receive responses from some states on migrant workers.
Reportedly, at least 25 migrant workers have died while walking to their homes during the shutdown. The latest tragic incident is from Madhya Pradesh’s Ujjain where three elderly migrant workers who returned from Jaisalmer on Tuesday, were crushed to death in their sleep by a truck, barely a kilometre from their village in Ujjain district.
While announcing the lockdown on March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made it clear that people should remain wherever they are. With businesses suspended and establishments shut down, vast numbers of daily wage labourers, many of whom lived where they worked, were suddenly left without any means of sustenance and shelter in large cities. In the initial days of the lockdown, thousands of the migrant workers started moving by foot from cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad to their respective places, leading to a humanitarian crisis.
There have been at least three protests by migrant workers in Surat in Gujarat in recent weeks as they have been demanding passage to their home states. About a fortnight ago, hundreds gathered in Mumbai’s Bandra after there were rumours of trains resuming operations to North India. Maharashtra and Gujarat are the two worst coronavirus affected states. The desperation of the migrant workers was such that the police found a group of migrant labourers, who were travelling from Telangana to Rajasthan, inside a container truck in Maharashtra.
According to MHA, persons willing to move will be screened and only those having no symptoms will be allowed to move. Both the sending and receiving states will have to coordinate on the movement, and the states that fall in the route will allow the transit of such buses. On arrival at the destination, the persons will be again screened and they will be kept in home quarantine if found asymptomatic. They may also be kept in institutional quarantine, if required after health check-up. “They would be kept under watch with periodic health check-up,” the order said.
All those people who avail the opportunity “may be encouraged to use Aarogya Setu app through which their health status can be monitored and tracked”, according to the order. The union home secretary issued the order in his capacity as the chairperson of the National Executive Committee under the Disaster Management Act. MHA, which is monitoring the nationwide shutdown, also said the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on home quarantine should be followed by the authorities concerned.
Several states, including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Punjab, Assam, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, have brought back thousands of their students and tourists stuck in different parts of the country by bus. However, most of the migrant workers, tourists and other people continue to stuck in their places of work or shelter homes.
However, the Bihar government has been seeking the strict implementation of the lockdown, saying that people should remain wherever they are during the entire period of the lockdown. While transporting students, pilgrims and other people, the states have used buses and other vehicles.