SC Stays Orissa HC Order on Mandatory COVID-19 Testing of Migrants

The Centre filed an urgent appeal against the HC order, which effectively barred most Odia migrants from returning.

2 min read
The Supreme Court of India.

The Supreme Court on Friday, 8 May, put a decision of the Orissa High Court on hold, which would have meant that Odia migrant workers would need to test negative for the novel coronavirus before being allowed to return home.

This interim order of the Orissa High Court had come in for criticism as it essentially meant that most workers would not be able to return home, as by virtue of being asymptomatic, they wouldn’t be eligible for a government COVID-19 test, and would not be able to pay for a private test.

The Centre had filed an urgent appeal against the interim order by the high court, arguing that the order was “unworkable” as it created an “unreasonable and impossible precondition on the part of governments and the migrant workers who wish to travel back to their places.”

The matter was mentioned urgently by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta before a Supreme Court bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai (who were hearing cases remotely), on Friday.

The judges granted an immediate stay on the order, which, the Ministry of Home Affairs argued, had ignored the standard operating procedure for the return of stranded migrants set out in an MHA circular dated 29 April.

According to the MHA’s instructions, the migrants wishing to return home need to be screened for symptoms, and if asymptomatic, are to be allowed to proceed. Upon arrival in their home state, they are to be given a check, following which they will be sent home or to institutional quarantine.

By imposing a requirement for a COVID-19 test to enter Odisha, the Orissa High Court was going beyond this, imposing additional conditions that would not only be difficult for migrants to fulfill, but also lead to a backlog of movement, and create difficulties for the migrants’ stay and other requirements in other states/UTs.

The Centre argued that this decision ignored the “delicate situation” in the country, and the measures being taken by states to ensure safe return of migrants.

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