Migrants' crisis: SC asks states to provide food, fund travel
Waking up to the massive humanitarian crisis being played out on Indian roads, the Supreme Court on Thursday said that states, where the migrant workers are staying, should provide them food, shelter, and other basic amenities. The cost of their travel should be borne by the states too, the top court added. Meanwhile, Railways was ordered to provide them food and water inside trains.
For more than two months now, migrants have been taking on dangerous paths to reach their home states. These workers were rendered jobless after the coronavirus crisis forced the BJP-led Centre to shut the entire nation on March 25. With no means of transportation available, they walked, carrying small kids, whatever belongings they had, and some water and biscuits. The crisis jolted the nation.
Eventually, it was on May 1 that the Centre started Shramik special trains to save them from the torturous journey. But the journeys weren't easy, either. The lack of coordination between Railways and receiving states led to trains being canceled, there was confusion over who's funding the travel, and no arrangements of food or water were made. In the unforgiving heat, several workers died.
After turning a blind eye to the crisis for weeks, the top court took suo motu cognizance of the matter. During the hearing today, it asked who was paying for the train tickets. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta replied, "Some originating state pays, some receiving states are paying and some states are reimbursing." He said tickets can't be centralized, hence, it was left to states.
"Tickets cannot be centralized. That's why Railways decided it will be left to the state governments. A decision was taken that rail fare will be paid by originating state or receiving state but the migrant workers will not be burdened with it," Mehta added.
When asked about the arrangements inside the trains, Mehta informed that Railways is providing free food and water, and thus far 84 lakh meals have been given. He also said the sending states provide the first meal. Once they reach their home states, the governments ferry them in buses. They are screened and in some states quarantined as well, informed Mehta.
SC asked Mehta who will ensure that migrants get food and water. "It's not that the government is not doing anything but looking at the number of stranded migrants, some concrete steps are needed," SC noted. When asked how much time will it take to transport migrant workers home, Mehta said states are better equipped to provide these numbers.
SC noted that several lapses have happened and that workers had to wait for weeks, even after registration. Thereafter, SC ordered that states will pay for bus/train fares, Railways will provide food/water, sending states will give them meals, states will oversee registration and arrange a journey at the earliest, and states where the migrant workers are stranded will provide them food and shelter.