SC gives governments 15 days to transport migrant workers home
The migrant workers, who are stranded across the nation, must be ferried back to their native states within 15 days, the Supreme Court told the federal and state governments on Friday while reserving the final order for Tuesday, June 9. Upset with the plight of the workers, the top court had taken suo motu cognizance of the matter earlier. Here are more details.
The ordeal of migrant workers started in March when the government enforced a nationwide lockdown to stop coronavirus' transmission. They had no jobs and no food on their plates. Faced with an unprecedented disaster, they started walking towards their homes, thousands of kilometers away, as transportation modes were suspended. Some died of exhaustion, starvation, and some lost their lives in accidents.
Weeks into the lockdown, the government started Shramik special trains on May 1, for transporting them home. Shockingly, the trains lacked adequate facilities, and laborers traveled in blistering heat, without water or food. Earlier, Railways confirmed 80 people died on these trains between May 9 and May 27. In fact, ambiguity over who is paying for the tickets also got the government criticism.
In the last hearing on May 28, the top court ordered that sending states must give food to laborers, while Railways was ordered to give them meals and water on the train. Saying that migrants aren't burdened with the fare, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the court that originating or receiving states fund their travel. Some states reimbursed the money too.
Today, Mehta apprised the bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and MR Shah that nearly 57 lakh have been transported in 4,228 trains. Some 41 lakh have returned home by road, he added. With this, the total number of migrant workers who have left bigger cities has almost touched 1 crore. The maximum trains went to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
During the hearing, states divulged key details about travel. Gujarat said it has sent 20.50 lakh migrants home, while Maharashtra sent 11 lakh. Bihar said 28 lakh migrants have returned and West Bengal revealed four lakh laborers are lodged in camps. Referring to a chart, the bench asked if Maharashtra has asked for only one train till now. Mehta replied in the affirmative.
"What we intend to do is we will give you and the states 15 days to transport all migrants. All states bring on record how they will provide employment and other kinds of relief. There should be a registration of migrants," the top court ordered.