SC stays Orissa HC order asking state to allow only COVID-19 negative migrants to return

New Delhi, May 8 (PTI) The Supreme Court Friday stayed an interim order of the Orissa High Court which had asked the state government to ensure that all migrants, who are in queue to enter Odisha, should be tested negative of COVID-19 before boarding the conveyance.

The high court, which had passed the interim order yesterday, had suggested that state should ensure that only those tested negative for COVID-19 are allowed to return.

A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan stayed the high court order, which was challenged by the Centre, and issued notice to the concerned parties on the appeal.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and B R Gavai, that all the stranded migrants are screened while boarding the trains and only those who are found asymptomatic are allowed to proceed.

Mehta referred to the April 29 order of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the guidelines issued thereafter as per which moving persons would be screened and those found asymptomatic would be allowed to proceed.

'We are of the view that the order of the Government of India dated April 29, 2020 provides ample protection. It appears that before the High Court the order of the Government of India dated April 29, 2020 and the guidelines were neither brought into the notice nor were under challenge,' the bench said in its order.

'In view of the aforesaid, we stay the interim order dated May 7, 2020. We further clarify that the stranded migrants shall be dealt with as per the order/guidelines of the Government of India dated April 29 read with the guidelines dated May 1 issued thereunder by the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs,' the bench said.

In its appeal filed in the apex court, the Centre has said, 'The high court, by way of the impugned order, has without hearing the Union of India, has passed an interim order mandating the COVID-19 testing of every migrant before boarding the conveyance.' The plea added that the order may have a 'cascading effect' on the migrants of other states as well.

It claimed that the order, 'apart from being unworkable', failed to notice the standard operating procedure already being followed by the Centre and the state governments.

'It is humbly submitted that impugned order clearly impinges upon the executive domain and creates an unreasonable and impossible to perform pre-condition on part of the governments and the migrants workers who wish to travel back to their native places,' it said, adding, the high court order ignores the nature of pandemic and the 'delicate handling of the situation by the executive, after consideration of all possible factors.' The appeal said that the Centre, in conjunction with the state governments, is taking all possible precautions at the stage of boarding, during travel, after de-boarding and subsequent quarantine.

The Centre has told the apex court that after completion of a strict 40 day lockdown, in which no inter-state travel of any kind was permitted, a decision was taken that migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places would be allowed to travel back to their native places.

It said the Centre, in conjunction with the state governments, has taken all possible precautionary steps to make sure that travel of migrants does not result in the spread of COVID-19.

The appeal, which sought setting aside of the high court order, said that 'Shramik special' trains have been started and till now, a total of 162 trains have originated.

Social activist Narayan Chandra Jena had written a letter to the Orissa High Court on May 1 seeking judicial intervention for ensuring that coronavirus infected migrant workers are not allowed to enter the state by the state government.

The letter was later converted into a PIL on May 4. Following the high court's order, three trains, which were to bring stranded people to Odisha from Surat in Gujarat, were cancelled yesterday. PTI ABA MNL SJK RKS MNL RKS RKS