NEW DELHI: In a move to curb the movement of migrant workers on roads and highways, the Centre on Sunday used the Disaster Management Act to fix responsibility on district magistrates and senior superintendents of police to seal district and state borders while making arrangements for those on the roads to be housed in shelters besides also dissuading such workers from leaving their current place of stay.
The measure followed concerns that continued movement of lakhs of migrant workers from various cities to the hinterland could lead to a problematic spread of Covid-19 in rural areas and was accompanied with directions to ensure salaries were paid and employment was not terminated during the ongoing national lockdown and the ensuing shuttering of economic activity in large parts of the country.
Responding to questions whether the government was caught unawares by the migrant outflow, Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry, said the entire situation due to the global and national spread of coronavirus was unprecedented in scale and the Centre had done its best to anticipate as well as respond to the developing situation on the ground.
Apart from enforcing the lockdown, states were directed to ensure all employers, be it in the industry or in shops or commercial establishments, shall make payment of wages to their workers, at their workplace, on the due date and without any deduction for the period their establishments are under closure during the lockdown.
It was also said that wherever workers, including the migrants, are living in rented accommodation, landlords shall not demand payment of rent for a period of one month. If a landlord forces labourers or students to vacate premises, the state police have been told to make him liable under the Disaster Management Act.
In a fresh order issued by the Union home secretary under Section 10(2)(l) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, states and UTs were told to ensure proper screening of migrants on the move for Covid-19 and keep them in government quarantine facilities for a minimum 14 days as per standard health protocol. Health ministry sources said migrant workers were less of a risk as compared to foreign travellers and their immediate contacts, but would need tracking as some could be carriers of the disease.
As per the order, which entails punitive action if violated by any person or anyone in authority, states and UT governments shall ensure adequate arrangements of temporary shelters and provision of food for the poor and needy people, including migrant workers stranded due to the lockdown.
“Whereas, to deal with the situation and for effective implementation of the lockdown measures, and to mitigate the economic hardship of the migrant workers, in exercise of its powers (under Section 10(2)(I) of the Disaster Management Act), the undersigned, in the capacity as chairperson, National Executive Committee hereby directs states/Union territory authorities to take necessary action and to issue necessary orders to their district magistrate/deputy commissioner and senior superintendent of police/superintendent of police/deputy commissioner of police to take following additional measures,” the order said.
“It is further indicated that in case of violation of any of the above measures, the respective state/UT government shall take necessary action under the Act,” it said.
The home secretary in a separate letter sent to the chief secretaries on Sunday sought “strict implementation of the measures to stop the movement of migrants and providing them with quarantine facilities, food, etc and ensuring payment of wages and non-eviction by their landlords”.