Recently, a public-spirited person filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Hon’ble High Court of Orissa seeking certain directions against our migrant labours and workers stranded in different states outside Orissa, due to the unprecedented Coronavirus situation. However, quite surprisingly, the gentleman did not choose to array the central government as a party, who has been proactively playing a pivotal role in consultation with different state Governments.
It is the duty of the petitioner to place all relevant facts before the court and in case he fails to bring some crucial facts, the State Government must dutifully update and inform the court regarding the shortcomings, especially, when the central government is unrepresented. The Hon’ble High court passed an order that “only those workers who test negative for COVID-19 should be allowed to return home”. Therefore, here the arguments or the counter affidavit, if filed, by the state is extremely crucial.
Silence is guilt where there is a duty to speak. If someone maintains neutrality or underplays their duty in an adverse situation only three probable and rebuttable conclusions can be drawn.
Many believe that it was only after the Supreme Court stayed the order with lightning speed, the government became vocal about their plight. Therefore, in order to further strengthen the confidence of our stranded brothers and sisters, former respected Clerk turned entrepreneur Mr Bagchi or any other authorized person of the Government must explain the people regarding the arguments of the State Government in the High Court.
People have a right to know whether the speech and actions of the Government are in the right and same direction or there is any discrepancy. They must come clear and explain, if the notification dated 24-02-2020 passed by the Home Ministry Govt of India under the standard operating system for movement of labour was placed and explained meticulously by the State Government before the High Court and if not, then why? Few bullet points of the comprehensive guidelines issued after taking into consideration the views of all the stakeholders affected in simple words are as follows-
1. All stranded persons shall be registered and all states /UT’s should designate nodal authorities and develop standard protocols for receiving and sending such stranded persons.
2. In case they choose to move, then the sending and receiving states can consult and mutually agree to the movement by road.
3. They would be screened and only those who found to be asymptomatic would be all allowed to proceed.
4. The transit states and UTs will give them passes.
5. Buses will be sanitized and social distancing must be maintained under any circumstances.
6. On arrival, the local govt must do an assessment and decide whether the person requires home quarantine or institutionalized quarantine.
Somebody must also explain if they have apprised the court regarding the following-
COVID-19 is not the only communicable disease with no vaccination, there are diseases like Hantavirus, AIDS etc. Therefore, it is discriminatory for COVID-19 patients, if other patients with diseases with no vaccine are allowed to enter.
A person found to be positive in any part of the state outside Odisha may choose to prefer his treatment in Odisha because he has a right to choose the place and quality of his treatment. He may lose his life if he is found in a place having inadequate facilities. If he can afford the treatment in a better private hospital, then why would he risk his life.
ICMR is a specialized body and has set up a mechanism after brainstorming sessions with several experts regarding the categories of people to be tested. Therefore, the wisdom of ICMR should not be substituted by the wisdom of anyone else.
COVID-19 is a Pan India problem. It is not a competition between state and central government. The situation demands respect for higher standards of cooperative federalism. In this testing times, our stranded brothers and sisters require and expect unconditional love, affection, support and motivation. They should not feel left out. The spokespersons of the state government must answer some specific basic questions to which people want answers. Some of the questions are as follows-
We can get over the crisis in future. But till the time there is no vaccine, it is everybody’s duty to stand shoulder to shoulder with our 'pravasi oriya' people, else we may end up on the wrong side of history. Under any circumstances, we must not run away from responsibility but face the situation with courage, conviction, care, calmness and credibility (5 C). What Benjamin Franklin had said years ago still holds true in the current scenario.
“Justice can never be served unless and until those who are not affected are as outraged as those who are affected”.
The author, Sarthak Nayak, is a practising litigation lawyer in the Supreme Court of India and has done his Masters in International Trade and Commercial Law from the University of Durham ( UK )