The Tamil Nadu government on Friday told the Madras High Court that it had not restricted the movement of people from other States and countries to Tamil Nadu, but was only insisting that they obtain an auto-generated e-pass for contact-tracing owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy were informed by State Government Pleader (SGP) V. Jayaprakash Narayanan that the government was only collecting the basic details of inbound travellers to keep a tab on their movement.
However, wondering whether it would be permissible for the State government to do so when the Centre had advised the States to discontinue the e-pass system, the judges directed the SGP to make sure that his submissions were put in writing by Monday.
The direction was issued at the hearing of a writ petition against the insistence on e-passes. Petitioner’s counsel Abishek Jebaraj told the judges that the Centre’s advisory was binding on the State. He pointed out that the guidelines issued by the Union Home Ministry on September 30 stated that there should be no restriction on inter-State or intra-State movement, and no separate permission or approval or permit would be required for such travel. But the State government was insisting that inbound travellers fill up forms online and obtain e-passes without which they would not be allowed to enter the State.
He recalled his personal experience while flying from Delhi to Chennai last month. “In the e-pass application, I had to fill the name of the cab driver and the registration number of the vehicle. Luckily, I was able to make a phone call to the driver and obtain those details. Otherwise, I would not have been allowed to step out of the airport,” he told the judges.
Counsel also wondered what was the purpose of the State government collecting such details from inbound passengers when the online e-pass application form does not even require the applicant to state whether or not he had tested positive for COVID-19.
After hearing him at length, the judges directed the SGP to make sure that a responsible government official filed an affidavit explaining under what authority the State was insisting upon such auto-generated e-passes despite the Centre’s advisory against them.