Migrant Workers: No Fare Should Be Charged For Travel:Top Court
NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Centre to ensure free travel to stranded migrants to their home states by trains and buses even as the government contended that it is taking “unprecedented steps” to meet the challenging crisis during the Covid-19 lockdown.
A three-judge bench asked the solicitor general Tushar Mehta about the confusion over payment of travel fare of stranded migrant workers and said that they should not made to pay for their journey back home. Migrant workers found walking on the roads, said the court, should immediately be taken to shelters and provided food and other necessary facilities.
“What is the normal time? If a migrant is identified, there must be some certainty that he will be shifted out within one week or ten days at most? What is that time? There had been instances where one state sends migrants but at the border another State says we are not accepting the migrants. We need a policy on this,” the bench told Mehta.
The Centre told the top court that it has sent 97 lakh migrant workers – 50 lakh by Shramik Specials and 47 lakh via road – home between May 1 and 27, adding 80 percent of those are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and M R Shah, directed that states shall oversee the registration of migrant workers and ensure that they are made to board the train or bus at the earliest. They should also provide food and water to migrant workers who are stranded in the state.
On May 15, the Supreme Court had refused to entertain a plea by lawyer Alakh Alok Srivastava, seeking a direction to the Centre to ask all district magistrates to identify stranded migrant workers and provide shelter and food to them before ensuring their free transportation home in view of the incident at Aurangabad in which 16 workers were mowed down by a goods train.
The court’s decision not to intervene then had led to widespread criticism. On May 25 night – the day before the court finally took a stand – a group of senior advocates had written to Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and other justices of the Supreme Court, detailing why it was so important for the court to intervene.
The move came more than two months since a countrywide lockdown was announced, that resulted in migrants having to travel out of the cities where they worked in (mostly as daily wage earners) and towards their native villages and towns, on foot. Signatories include P. Chidambaram, Indira Jaising, Janak Dwarkadas, Prashant Bhushan, Gayatri Singh, Sidharth Luthra and others.
“In the midst of the executive imposed Covid-19 lockdowns, the Hon’ble Supreme Court cannot retreat into a self-effacing deference, leaving millions of Indian citizens, especially those who are poor, vulnerable and impoverished, to the mercy of the executive, reminding us of ADM Jabalpur when detenues were left to the tender mercy of the executive with “Diamond bright Diamond hard” hope that something would be done,” they have said.
Today, veteran lawyers Kapil Sibal and Indira Jaisingh pointed out that the Railways was only operating at 3 per cent capacity and at the current rate, will take 3 months to transport all migrants.
“According to 1991 census, the migrant labour was more than 3 crore. By 2020 the number should be about 4 crores. If they have transported 91 lakh people in 27 days, it should take another 3 months to transport the rest,” Kapil Sibal said.
The court — which had initially asked a series of hard questions to the Centre regarding food, funding, shelter and the entire logistics of transportation — said the major problem is the “transportation of migrants and providing them food”.
“The first problem is of transport. They are waiting for weeks even after registration. Are these people being asked to shell out any money at any stage? How is the state paying,” the judges questioned.
Over the last weeks, a series of instances were reported of hungry and desperate migrants looting food carts at various railway stations across the country. Several migrants have died after being on the trains without food and water in the sizzling heat. Yesterday, a heartbreaking video of a child trying wake his dead mother had gone viral.
(With Agency Inputs ).