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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Hopes of returning to the native soil soared high for nearly 2.77 lakh Odia migrant workers residing in different parts in the country, as the apex court on Friday  granted an interim stay on the Orissa High Court order that prohibited entry of migrant Odia workers to Odisha without a COVID negative test.

The SC bench comprising of Justice Ashok Bhusan, Justice SK Kaul and Justice BR Gavai has granted an interim order of stay on the HC order, after hearing to a Special Leave Petition (SLP)filed by Union government  under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution.

This Article vests the Supreme Court of India the power to grant special leave to an appeal against any judgment passed by a court.

Appealing against the Orissa HC judgment, the Centre contended that the order has been passed without hearing the Union of India.

It needs mentioning that hearing a PIL yesterday, Orissa HC bench comprising of Justices S Panda and KR Mohapatra passed an order that said, "The state government should ensure that all migrants who are in queue to come to Odisha should be tested negative of Covid-19 before boarding the conveyance.”

Following the HC order, Odisha government had yesterday cancelled 3 trains originating from Surat till further orders.

The Aftermath

Reports from Surat show hundreds of irate Odia migrant workers have hit the streets there protesting Odisha government's order to cancel the trains.

As  per the statement of Surat DCP RP Barot to news agencies, "They were anxious after learning that Odisha government has cancelled permission given to three trains from Surat carrying migrant workers (following a court order). We urged them to keep calm and made them aware about the court order. They peacefully returned to their homes.”

Why an Embarrassment for Odisha Government?

The embarrassment here for the State government is, migrant workers from states like UP, Bihar, MP and J&K face no such qualms in returning to their respective home states.

As per the northern railways release, 20 Shramik trains will be reaching Bihar on Friday. Over 20,000 migrant workers from Bihar have boarded the trains from states like Gujarat, AP, Telangana, Haryana etc, the release added.

For the Naveen-led BJD government, the decision to cancel the Shramik trains holds a grave political risk, especially when the majority of returnees belong to CM Naveen Patnaik's home district.

Who's the early bird?

As the Orissa HC has stayed the Odisha government order on bringing back migrant workers, the Centre promptly filed a SLP in the SC today.

What's the Orissa HC order?

The HC order had very clearly put the onus of COVID testing of Odia migrant workers on the source states - means the states from where migrant workers are returning to Odisha.

Number of migrant workers from Odisha

As per 2011 census data, nearly 3 lakh (2.98) have migrated from Odisha to other states for work or employment purpose. The data available with the state government's COVID cell shows, only 61,369 individuals have returned to the State till date.

The Bottom Line

Since Jan 30 to May 7, the total COVID tests done in the country stood at 14.38 lakh, so testing of 3 lakh migrant Odia workers looks an uphill task for the source states.

Take the instance of Gujarat, till May 6, the total COVID sample tests conducted in the State stood at around 92,000; whereas the total migrant worker population residing in Gujarat is estimated at a massive 20 lakh!   

As no other state has cancelled such movement of migrant workers, it's the poor migrant workers from Odisha who emerge as the most vulnerable to COVID pandemic.  

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