The Supreme Court today stayed an Orissa High Court interim order that said only those migrants who tested negative for the COVID-19 virus would be allowed to re-enter the state. The top court's action, delivered by a three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai, comes after the centre said the High Court order was "unworkable" and passed without consultation.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the centre, said the Orissa High Court had failed to understand the "delicate nature of the situation and did not take into account SOP (standard operating procedure) by other states".
The centre said the high court's interim order would make it difficult for stranded migrant workers waiting to return to their hometowns and villages.
On Thursday the Orissa High Court suggested the state allow migrant workers to re-enter the state only if they tested negative for the COVID-19 virus.
A two-judge bench of Justices Kumari Sanju Panda and KR Mohapatra adjourned the hearing over a PIL (public interest litigation) but passed an interim order to that effect.
"In the meantime, the state government should ensure that all the migrants who are in the queue to come to Odisha should test negative for COVID-19 before boarding the conveyance," the bench said.
However, the court did not specify whether the state needed to conduct medical tests or merely thermal screening.
Odisha has 219 coronavirus cases and two deaths so far.
The state, along with Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, were this week identified as potential hotspots given the expected influx of stranded migrant workers being ferried home in special "shramik (worker)" trains.
During a virtual meeting with Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, the health ministers of these states were asked to increase testing facilities.
Intensive testing becomes crucial in view of government guidelines regarding transportation of stranded migrant workers and others; they will be allowed to board the train, the Railways has said, if they screen negative for the virus.
However, last month a senior scientist at the ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research, the government's nodal body in this health crisis) told NDTV that a worrying 80 per cent of coronavirus cases in the country were asymptomatic, meaning they do not show signs of infection.
Lakhs of migrants, students and others were left stranded in March after a nationwide lockdown, including shutting of public transport, was announced with only a few hours' notice. Left with no money, food or shelter, they set out for home on foot, or on cycles, triggering a humanitarian crisis.
Last week the centre, reportedly fearing political backlash over the situation, permitted them to return, providing they screened negative at origin and destination, and completed a quarantine period on arrival.
With input from PTI