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NEW DELHI : The Union home ministry on Wednesday issued fresh guidelines for interstate movement to allow stranded migrant labourers, tourists and students to return to their homes.

It said the new guidelines will come into effect from 4 May, “which shall give considerable relaxation to many districts."

So far, only interstate movement of essential commodities has been allowed, while migrant workers could travel to their workplaces within city limits if they showed no symptoms for coronavirus.

Wednesday’s guidelines says all stranded people can return to their home towns after undergoing strict medical screening both at the source and destination cities. States must also organize thermal testing units and quarantine facilities for all those who are stranded, in order to clear asymptomatic cases, before sending them back. However, the movement of migrants, tourists and students will be restricted to non-containment zones.

States must arrange for sanitized buses for transportation, it said.

The decision comes just two days after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief ministers, wherein the issue of stranded migrant labourers and students was discussed. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, states where large numbers of migrants come from, had requested that they be allowed to return home. The Odisha government said that the Centre must set standard operating procedures (SOP) for people who are returning.

“Due to lockdown migrant workers, pilgrims, students, tourists and other persons are stranded at different places," Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla said in a letter to states. “All states should designate nodal authorities and develop standard protocols for receiving and sending stranded people."

State governments, who have kept a strict vigil at borders, allowing movement of only essential services, will now coordinate with each other to ensure safe passage to the hundreds of thousands stranded across the country.

The sending and receiving states must agree to movement by road only after the people are screened and found to be asymptomatic, the Centre said, adding that states must also organize thoroughly sanitized buses.

“On arrival at their destination, such persons would be screened by local health authorities, and kept in home quarantine unless the assessment requires keeping the person in institutional quarantine," Bhalla said, reiterating that “they will be kept under watch with periodic health check-ups".

The home ministry’s move is a major step towards easing the lockdown, even as states continue to demand an extension beyond 3 May.

Though states have permitted certain activities following the revised guidelines issued by the Union home ministry on 15 April for a staggered lifting of the lockdown, the opposition said the Centre should broaden the scope of transportation.

“I welcome the decision of the government to allow interstate movement of migrant workers and students by bus after testing them. This has been a demand of the Congress party since mid-April. Buses alone will not be sufficient. It is better to run sanitized trains point-to-point to move the large numbers who desire to migrate back to their home states," Congress leader P. Chidambaram said.

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