Centre, states taking relief steps for migrants, can’t keep plea pending: SC

The bench said that trains and buses are being provided for their travel and some reports say that 85 per cent cost of their travel is borne by the Centre

Supreme Court, migrant workers, migrant labourers, stranded migrants, Shramik Special trains, COVID-19, Lockdown, coronavirus
Lakhs of migrant labourers had returned home, either on foot, arranged vehicles or special Shramik trains, after the lockdown due to pandemic rendered them jobless. Photo: PTI

The Supreme Court on Tuesday (May 5) said the Centre and states are taking appropriate steps to provide relief to migrant workers and disposed of a plea seeking directions to the Railways as also states to provide free of cost travel to homebound migrants.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and B R Gavai, which took up the matter through video conferencing, said that it does not see any reason to keep the PIL pending and disposed it off.

The top court was hearing a PIL filed by Jagdeep S Chhokar, former director in-charge of IIM, Ahmedabad, and lawyer Gaurav Jain, who have sought direction to authorities to allow migrant workers across the country to return home on free travel after the coronavirus test.

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Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners, said all migrant workers are not being allowed to go to their villages and many of them have to walk on foot to return home.

The bench said the relief claimed by the petitioner has already been granted by the government and it cannot consider the prayer besides what has been made in the petition.

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Bhushan said the central government has to provide the migrant workers the ways and means for the movement but a circular has been issued saying that the state where the workers are and their native state, have to agree for their travel.

It is only after both the states agree that migrant workers are sent to their native places, he said, adding that most of them are also being asked to produce medical certificates from hospitals and are facing problems in doing so.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the government is following the rules and the protocol and providing all possible help to the migrant workers.

The bench said that trains and buses are being provided for their travel and some reports say that 85 per cent cost of their travel is borne by the Centre.

Bhushan said the Railways is saying that states must collect fare from the people and while the reports of 85 per cent subsidy by the Centre may be true, paying even 15 per cent is also too expensive for the migrant workers who have lost their financial means.

Mehta said that initially the grievance of the petitioners was that migrant workers were not allowed to go home, now they are allowed as the government is reviewing the situation on a daily basis.

He said the ground situation is being monitored on a daily basis and when a migrant worker goes back to his native place he or she has to be placed under quarantine for which a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) has been finalised.

He said the Centre is taking proactive steps as far as migrant workers are concerned and urged the court should leave it to the government for micro-managing these things.

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Chhokar and Jain filed a supplementary affidavit on Monday stating that the migrant workers who have been stranded for no fault of their own, with zero earnings and no financial support are being charged very high train fares for their journey to native places and railways and the States should not charge them. That migrant are being required to pay around ₹800 as train fares and the same is highly unjustified It is submitted that migrants have been stranded for no fault of their own, with zero earnings and not financial support.

Therefore, it must be made clear that the Railways and the states would not be charging the migrant workers for the train and bus travel being arranged for them, the supplementary affidavit had said.

It said that on May 3, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a letter to Chief Secretaries and Administrators, clarified about the movement of distressed stranded persons, in which the ministry has given a very narrow definition of stranded migrants by including only those who had moved from their native places just before the lockdown period but could not return to their native places on account of restrictions placed on movement of persons and vehicles as part of lockdown measures.

On April 27, the apex court had said, This institution is not hostage of government, after advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioners alleged that the governments view is being blindly considered by the courts without verifying it, while fundamental rights of people especially migrant workers are not being enforced.

Chhokar and Jain in their plea had said that in wake of the extension of the nationwide lockdown, the migrant workers who are among the worst affected category of people must be allowed to go back to their homes after being tested for COVID-19.

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