IN a suo motu proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court of India regarding the miseries of the migrant workers, it issued slew of interim directions on Thursday after hearing the Central Government, the State Governments, Union Territories and the various organisations who filed intervention applications.
A three-judge bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M R Shah ordered as follows:
No fare either by train or by bus shall be charged from any migrant workers. The railway fare shall be shared by the States as per their arrangement as submitted by the learned Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and in no case any fare should be asked or charged from any migrant workers by the States and the Railways.
The migrant workers who are stranded at different places in the country shall be provided food free of cost by the concerned States / Union Territories at different places which shall be publicized and notified to them during the period they are waiting for their turn to board the train or bus.
The originating State shall provide water and meal and during the journey, the railways shall provide meal and water to the migrant workers and same facilities shall be extended when the migrant workers are transported by bus. The State shall take care of providing necessities water and meal during the period of transportation either in the bus or in the camps on the way.
The State shall simplify and speed up the process of registration of migrant workers and also provide help desk for registration at the places where they are stranded.
The State shall try to endeavour that after registration the workers should be asked to board the train or bus at the earliest and complete information should be publicized to all the concerned regarding mode of transport.
Those migrant workers who are found walking on the highways or roads shall be immediately taken care by the concerned State / Union Territories and they shall be provided the transport to the destination and all facilities including food and water be provided to those found walking on the road.
The receiving State, after the migrant workers reach his native place, shall provide transport, health screening and other facilities free of cost.
The court also directed that in their replies, the Central Government and the State Governments shall apprise the court of all the all necessary details regarding the number of migrant workers, the plan to transport them to their destination, the mechanism of registration and other details should be brought on the record.
The next date of hearing in the matter has been fixed for June 5.
Solicitor General (SG) Mehta also submitted that an estimated time period and the plan for transportation of all stranded workers shall also be intimated in the reply.
During the hearing, SG Tushar Mehta, on behalf of the Central Government, informed the court that from May 1, the migrant workers are being sent to their destination i.e. hometown by ‘Shramik’ trains and also by road. According to Mehta, between May 1 to May 27, a total of 3700 ‘Shramik’ trains have been operated and a total of 50 lakh migrant workers had been shifted by ‘Shramik’ trains and about a total of 41 lakh migrant workers had been transported by road transport. He added that food and water are provided by the originating concerned State from where the migrant workers start their journey and when the journey is undertaken by railways, the railways provides the meal.
In response to a query posed by the bench regarding the fare of the railway ticket, SG Mehta informed the fare was borne either by the originating State or the receiving State as per their internal arrangement. In any event, according to him, the migrant workers were not asked to bear the fare of the train or bus.
After completion of his argument, SG Mehta said:
“Centre is doing a lot to prevent COVID-19 but there are prophets of doom in our country who only spread negativity, negativity, negativity. These arm chair intellectuals do not recognize the nation’s effort”.
He added that all these intervenors be made to file an affidavit showing how they have contributed to the situation.
Senior advocate P S Narsimha, who appeared for the Uttar Pradesh Government, submitted that the State had taken several measures with regard to the migrant workers. He added that the State had made an advance payment of Rs.51 crores for bearing the fare of migrant workers who had come to the State of Uttar Pradesh. According to him, the Uttar Pradesh Government is providing Rs.1000/- and a kit containing food and other necessary items to the migrant workers for their use when they go home after quarantining.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal who appeared for one the intervenors, submitted that the minimum standards of relief, as provided under section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, had not been provided. He added that there was no National / State plan as provided under the Act. According to Sibal, more trains had to be run to speed up transportation of workers.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, who appeared for ‘Sarva Hara Jan Andolan’ -an organization-, submitted that the number of trains needed to be increased. She added that looking to the number of migrant workers, as mentioned by the Central Government in its report, sufficient time would be taken for transporting the migrant workers and unless the number of trains are increased, there would be a difficulty for transportation of migrant workers.
According to Jaising, not more than 3% of the total normal capacity of the long-distance trains is being used. At this rate, she said, it would take about 97 days to transport the remaining 3.62 crore migrant workers. She submitted there are about 4 crores migrant workers. She also filed a brief written note in the matter.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves pointed out that there were several difficulties with regard to registration. Most of the migrant workers do not have smartphones and therefore they are not able to comply with so many technicalities, which have been required for registration. He added that due to difficulty in registration, the migrant workers are suffering and they have to pay a huge sum. He requested that there has to be free train and bus travel, free food, water and other necessities for the migrant workers by all concerned.