India coronavirus lockdown: Stranded migrants can return home

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image captionMillions have been stranded by the lockdown

India has said millions of people stranded by a nationwide lockdown can now return to their home states.

A notice issued by the home ministry says people will need to be screened for symptoms at both source and destination, and be quarantined.

However, the movement of people will be only possible through state government facilitation, which means people cannot attempt to cross borders on their own.

India has been in lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus since 24 March.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the measure, he did so with barely four hours' notice. This prompted hundreds of thousands to try and flee cities to go back to their villages.

Many of these people were migrant workers - those who had come to cities from other states to earn a living.

These informal workers are the backbone of the big city economy, constructing houses, cooking food, serving in eateries, delivering takeaways, cutting hair in salons, making automobiles, plumbing toilets and delivering newspapers, among other things.

Most of the estimated 100 million of them live in squalid conditions.

When industries shut down overnight, many of them feared they would starve.

For days, they walked - sometimes hundreds of kilometres - to reach their villages because bus and train services were shut down overnight. Several died trying to make the journey.

Some state governments tried to facilitate buses, but these were quickly overrun. Thousands of others have been placed in quarantine centres and relief camps.

In recent weeks, there have been big protests by migrant workers in Gujarat state and Mumbai city, demanding they be allowed to go home.

Authorities say the lockdown has been key to saving lives, but critics have said that the lack of planning has hit the country's poorest and most vulnerable citizens hard.

Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, who had earlier filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking for migrants to be allowed to return home, told the BBC that the lockdown was "totally inhuman".

"Those who test negative for Covid-19 must not be forcibly kept in shelters or away from their homes and families against their wishes. The government should allow for their safe travel to their home towns and villages, and provide necessary transportation for the same," the petition says.

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