Govt nod for interstate travel but flights, trains, Metros still halted
Lifting the prohibition on interstate movement of cars and buses after nearly two months, the Centre on Sunday said their movement will now be allowed, as it eased restrictions for the next phase of the lockdown.
However, all domestic and international passenger flights, regular passenger trains and Metro services will remain suspended till May 31.
The home ministry, in its guidelines for Lockdown 4.0, added that the interstate movement of vehicles will be allowed with the mutual consent of the states and union territories concerned. The interstate movement of all vehicles, except those transporting essential services and goods, had been suspended since March 25 when the lockdown was first imposed.
“The interstate movement of vehicles and buses has been allowed with the mutual consent of the States/ UTs concerned,” the guidelines said.
A standard operating procedure (SOP) for bus operations may also be issued by the Centre, a senior official of the home ministry said.
Cycle rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, taxis and cab aggregators such as Ola and Uber can also begin to operate, provided the states concerned permit them to do so.
The Centre has also put the onus on states to decide the various activities to be allowed across red, orange and green zones. However, strict perimeter control has to be maintained, and no movement of persons can be allowed across containment zones, except for medical emergencies and to maintain the supply of essential goods and services, the order clarified.
While the prohibition on air travel continues, there will be exemptions for air transport for domestic medical services, domestic air ambulances, security purposes or purposes as permitted by the home ministry and cargo transport. The director-general of civil aviation (DGCA) also said that foreign and domestic airlines will be “suitably informed about the opening of their operations, whether international to/from India or domestic respectively in due course”.
National carrier Air India on Sunday also reiterated that flight bookings for domestic travel will resume only after proper instructions from the Union government. “Keeping in mind the prevailing situation due to Covid-19, it is informed that all domestic scheduled flights stand cancelled till 31st May 2020 excepting the flights operating as Charter and Evacuation Flights [sic],” it said in an internal communication.
The railways ministry also clarified there will be no change in railway services from that of the third lockdown. “There is no change in rail service. It will be the same as in Lockdown 3.0, only Shramik Special trains and special passenger trains will continue to run apart from goods and parcel trains,” a ministry official said.
The movement of passengers in trains had been permitted earlier by the MHA through an order dated May 11, allowing 15 premium trains to resume operations. The Centre had also said that bookings made for regular trains before and during the lockdown for journeys till June 30 stood cancelled and affected passengers will receive full refunds.
Till Sunday, 348,634 passengers had booked tickets worth Rs 69.33 crore for the premium trains, according to the railways ministry.
“In order to facilitate the movement of persons, various modes of transport have already been opened up. Further, the evacuation of foreign nationals from India, the return of stranded Indian nationals from abroad, the sign-on and sign-off of Indian seafarers, and the intra- and interstate movement of stranded persons by bus and train will continue to be allowed,” the home ministry said.
India has launched a concerted repatriation programme, by sea and air, to bring back stranded citizens stuck in various parts of the world, but with a strict set of preconditions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). “More than 13,000 stranded Indians have returned on various flights under the Vande Bharat mission,” union civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri tweeted.
Airports had begun preparing for the resumption of services following the government’s nod. The Airports Authority of India has also issued guidelines for the resumption of flights in a “graded manner” asking passengers to wear a mask and other protective gear and maintain at least four-feet physical distance from co-passengers. Puri has confirmed airport operations are likely to open only in a graded manner with nearly 25-30% of its capacity initially. They will be scaled up to their original level in a gradual manner, according to the government’s plan.
According to officials in the know, SOPs for the resumption of the Metro rail have also been prepared by the Centre.