Coronavirus Outbreak: Onus now on states to bring migrant workers, students home as Centre agrees to demand for special trains
Several states, in the meantime, announced steps they were taking for facilitating the movement of migrant workers and students, stranded in various cities due to the lockdown
Authorities across states have begun preparations to help lakhs of migrant workers and students reach their homes from different parts of the country where they are stranded for over a month due to the COVID-19 lockdown, even as the deadly virus infection spread further to take the nationwide tally of positive cases to over 35,000 and the toll crossed 1,100.
The Centre facilitated movement of around 1,200 people between Lingampally in Telangana to Hatia in Jharkhand by a 24-coach special train. This was done as part of a pilot exercise after repeated calls from states that movement through road was not feasible. A railway ministry statement also specified that the government may consider running more such trains on the basis of request from both the originating and destination state governments.
Another train is scheduled to run between Kota in Rajasthan and Ranchi in Jharkhand, while a third such train is scheduled to depart from Kerala's Ernakulam on Friday evening for Bhubaneshwar in Odisha.
At least seven states have demanded that special trains be run to facilitate inter-state movement of stranded people.
But now, with the Centre accommodating that request, it is going to be the state government's burden to prepare for the massive influx and outflow of people during a highly infectious pandemic at such a high rate.
The MHA said the Railways Ministry will appoint nodal officers to coordinate with states and issue detailed guidelines for social distancing and safety measures. Officials said those who travel by the train will have to bear the ticket cost but ticket sales will be coordinated between the district administration and the local railway authority.
Movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students & other persons, stranded at different places, is also allowed by #SpecialTrains to be operated by @RailMinIndia. MoR to designate nodal officer(s) for coordinating with States/ UTs for their movement#lockdown #Covid_19 pic.twitter.com/UvEvDH1Ibj
— Spokesperson, Ministry of Home Affairs (@PIBHomeAffairs) May 1, 2020
The Central Government mandates host states to take certain measures to facilitate safe movement of people. Passengers will have to be screened by states sending them, and only those found with no symptoms will be allowed to travel. These people will have to be brought to railway stations in batches in sanitised buses. Social-distancing norms have to be followed and all passengers will have to use face covers, or masks.
Government officials confirmed that green signal has been given to trains from Kerala's Aluva to Bhubhaneshwar in Odisha, Nashik in Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh state capital of Lucknow, Nashik to Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, Jaipur in Rajasthan to Patna in Bihar, and from Kota in Rajasthan to Hatia.
Trains from Rajasthan to Kerala and Karnataka and from Kochi to Bhubaneshwar have also received the go-ahead. MHA officials said both the receiving and the sending states will have to agree on social distancing and quarantine protocol before the Indian Railways allocates a train.
However, strains in coordination and the likely roadblocks are already visible even when the scheme hasn't been unveiled in a full-fledged manner.
A controversy is brewing between Maharashtra and Punjab governments after 3,500 Sikh pilgrims stranded in Nanded district were sent back to their home state but 178 of them tested positive, as per reports.
The Punjab Health Department has accused Maharashtra of not following Centre's guidelines and has decided to quarantine all returnees from outside the state for 21 days. Punjab will also test all pilgrims returning from Nanded.
"The pilgrims returning from Sri Hazur Sahib is a big challenge. The Maharashtra government didn't take steps to prevent the COVID-19 spread by testing those who were embarking upon the journey to Punjab," Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said.
"They were under Maharashtra government's observation. It was their duty to implement the Centre's guidelines. Their samplings and tests should have been done there. Had they told us it hasn't been done, we would have sent two teams there," Sidhu told ANI.
Several states, in the meantime, announced steps they were taking for facilitating the movement of migrant workers and students, stranded in various cities due to the lockdown, to help them reach their respective native places, in line with the Union Home Ministry guidelines announced on Wednesday. Some states have already brought back some migrant workers from other places.
The Madhya Pradesh government said it has brought back over 20,000 migrant labourers, who were stranded in other states due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath asked officials to ready quarantine centres, shelter homes and community kitchens as the state readied for the return of migrant workers stranded in different parts of the country.
Maharashtra issued a notification designating all the district collectors as the nodal authority for the movement of stranded people into or outside the state and also within the state, while the Gujarat government appointed 16 bureaucrats as nodal officers to facilitate the movement of such people across borders.
The Kerala government renewed its demand for special non-stop trains to transport those who are keen to leave for their respective states. There are 3.60 lakh workers in over 20,000 camps in the state and majority of them, hailing from West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, wanted to return home.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to arrange special trains for transportation of migrant workers, while he directed all deputy commissioners to prepare data of migrant labourers stranded in the state due to the lockdown.
As per the Union Home ministry order, buses would be used for transporting the stranded persons and these vehicles would be sanitised and will have to follow safe social distancing norms on seating. A senior official said all states and UTs will have to "strictly follow" these guidelines.
About 60,000 foreign nationals from 72 countries have also been evacuated from India, while the issue of evacuation of Indians stranded abroad is also under discussion, according to the Ministry of External Affairs.
With inputs from agencies
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