Considerable easing next week, says govt
The centre’s announcement — the first such official indication of what to expect after May 3 — came hours after the government relaxed the norms for migrant movement.Updated: Apr 30, 2020 04:37 IST
Even as it indicated that restrictions will be eased in many districts, after May 3, when the extended national lockdown is scheduled to end, the Union government, on Wednesday, issued guidelines to enable the return of migrants to their home states by buses — a move welcomed by many states.
Both suggest that the Centre is now looking at relaxing the lockdown, in a phased manner.
In a tweet late on Wednesday night, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) said, “New guidelines to fight #COVID19 will come into effect from 4th May, which shall give considerable relaxations to many districts. Details regarding this shall be communicated in the days to come.”
A person familiar with the development said that the ministry had a comprehensive meeting on the lockdown, assessed that there had been “tremendous gains” due to the lockdown so far, full strictness shall be observed till May 3; and that there will be new guidelines with relaxations which will he communicated soon. While no specifics were offered, in the backdrop of statements that the government is focusing on resuming normal economic activity in green zones — which are currently unaffected by the coronavirus disease — it is likely that restriction will be eased in these regions.
The centre’s announcement — the first such official indication of what to expect after May 3 — came hours after the government relaxed the norms for migrant movement. The decision on migrants came on the 36th day of the national lockdown, amid hundreds of thousands of migrant workers stranded away from their home or returning home on foot, and demands by states seeking policy clarity.
The MHA, in an order, said that migrant workers, students, tourists, pilgrims and other persons stranded in other states, should be allowed to move, and issued a protocol on how this should be done.
All states, the order said, should appoint nodal authorities who should register stranded individuals in their states. The sending and receiving states should then consult and agree with each other about “movement by road”. Those who wished to travel had to undergo screening, and only those who were asymptomatic could proceed. The order said that buses shall be used for enabling movement — and these should be sanitised and social distancing maintained in their seating arrangements. The states and union territories on the way shall allow the movement of such buses.
On Wednesday, Hindustan Times reported that Uttar Pradesh was planning to embark on an exercise to transport a million of its residents, all migrant workers, stuck outside the state back.
Emphasising the protocol to be followed once the stranded individuals get home, the order said, “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 the person(s) to be kept in institutional quarantine.” The order stipulated periodic health check ups, and encouraging all such individuals to download the Aarogya Setu app.
The move comes just days after chief ministers in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the plight of migrant workers and difficulties they were facing. This was also a concern voiced by state chief secretaries in a meeting with the cabinet secretary, Rajiv Gauba, over the weekend. Close to five million workers would have to be brought back to their respective states, as per the data collected by the state governments till Tuesday afternoon.
There have been reports of thousands of migrants walking hundreds of kilometres to get home; in other instances, there have also been reports of disquiet and anger building up among migrant workers, and even spilling over on to the streets, as happened in Surat, where workers clashed with security personnel.
An official involved in the discussions in framing the guidelines pointed out that such a federal framework was necessary to ensure smooth transit through different states and setting a standard protocol for such operations. The guideline will be useful for states that were grappling to find ways to bring back its workers or students stranded outside. Some states had, in consultation with each other, began the process of getting back their residents — while others, such as Bihar, had wanted the Centre to frame guidelines.
Officials also pointed out that while the Centre had imposed a federal ban citing provisions under The Disaster Management Act (NDMA), 2005, the same law also stipulates Centre’s role in “evacuation, rescue, temporary shelter or other immediate relief”— the one which has been used to erect temporary shelters across the states for migrant workers. According to a second official, the government also looked into a 1979 law, the inter-state migrant workmen act, while trying to find solutions to the migrant worker crisis. The law also gives the Centre sweeping powers to give directions to the states.
Commenting on the fresh guidelines for migrants, Yamini Aiyar, president and chief executive of the Centre for Policy Research, said, “The MHA guidelines to facilitate inter-state travel for migrant labour to go home, if they choose to do so, is significant step in the direction of restoring the rights and dignity of hundreds of thousands of Indians who have suffered deeply since the lockdown was imposed.” The next crucial measure, Aiyar said, that needed to be implemented “on a war footing” was the universalisation of food distribution and building a portable social security architecture. “This will ensure that the crisis India has witnessed this last month is never repeated.”
The move was welcomed by the states. Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar said that the decision of the Centre was in keeping with state’s request. “The Centre has taken a positive decision on our request. This will help a great deal in bringing back the interested migrant population stranded in different states. Following the Centre’s guidelines is in the interest of everyone. Bihar government has always followed the directions issued under the disaster management act,” he added.
Others also pointed to the challenge involved in the exercise. Jharkhand chief secretary Sukhdev Singh said it would be a huge task as over 900,000 people, including workers and students, from the state were stranded and willing to come back. “I have seen the notification. It’s big number. We need to deliberate on their safe transit and post-transit measures as per covid-19 protocols,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren spoke to railway minister Piyush Goyal requesting him to provide train service to bring back students and migrant workers stuck in other states. But the Centre’s guidelines have clearly specified that movement has to happen through road, using buses, and thus has ruled out the possibility of resumption of immediate rail services.