SC asks Centre, states to provide free food, shelter to migrant labourers


The apex court had on May 15 observed that it is impossible for courts to monitor or stop the movement of migrant workers across the country and it is for the government to take necessary action in this regard.

New Delhi: Taking cognizance of the "unfortunate and miserable" plight of the migrant labourers stranded across the country due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the Supreme Court Tuesday said they need "succour and help by the concerned governments" with regard to free food and shelter.
“The adequate transport arrangement, food and shelters are immediately to be provided by the Centre and State Governments free of costs,” the top court said.

Although the Centre and states have taken measures to provide them relief, there have been “inadequacies and certain lapses”, said the Supreme Court which took the suo motu (on its own) cognizance of the situation.

Referring to various media reports showing the “unfortunate and miserable conditions” of migrant labourers walking on-foot and cycles from long distances, the top court issued notices to the Centre, states and Union Territories and sought their replies by May 28.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M R Shah said, “This Court has also received several letters and representations from different sections of society highlighting the problem of migrant labourers. The crises of migrant labourers are even continuing today with large sections still stranded on roads, highways, railway stations and State borders.”

It said, “We take suo motu cognizance of problems and miseries of migrant labourers who had been stranded in different parts of the country. The newspaper reports and the media reports have been continuously showing the unfortunate and miserable conditions of migrant labourers walking on-foot and cycles from long distances.”

The top court added that “in the present situation of lockdown in the entire country, this section of the society (migrant labourers) needs succour and help by the concerned Governments especially steps need to be taken by the Government of India, State Governments/ Union Territories in this difficult situation to extend helping hand to these migrant labourers”.

It said the migrant labourers have also been complaining of not being provided food and water by the administration at places where they were stranded or in the way that is highways from which they preceded on-foot, cycles or other modes of transport.

“We are of the view that effective concentrated efforts are required to redeem the situation. We, thus, issue notice to the Union of India and all States / Union Territories to submit their responses looking into the urgency of the matter,” it added.

The bench said, “We direct the suo motu petition to be taken up day-after-tomorrow and we request the learned Solicitor General to assist the Court and by the next date of hearing bring in the notice of the Court all measures and steps taken by the Government of India and to be taken in this regard”.

It listed the matter for Thursday, May 28, and directed the apex court registry to serve a copy of the order to the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, as well as the States / Union Territories through their standing counsel today itself so that appropriate responses be brought before the court at the earliest.

Various lawyers and activists have been criticising the judiciary for not fixing the accountability of the executive in helping the stranded labourers.

The apex court had on May 15 observed that it is impossible for courts to monitor or stop the movement of migrant workers across the country and it is for the government to take necessary action in this regard.

The Centre had told the top court that migrant workers across the country were being provided transportation by the government to their destinations but they have to wait for their turn rather than starting walking on foot amid coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.

The top court had refused to entertain an application seeking a direction to the Centre to ask all District Magistrates to identify stranded migrant workers and provide shelter, food to them before ensuring their free transportation to native places in view of the recent incident at Aurangabad in which 16 workers were mowed down by a goods train.

Mehta had told the top court that subject to the agreement between state governments everybody would get a chance to travel to their destinations.

Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, who had filed the plea, referred to recent incidents of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh where migrant workers were killed in accidents on highways.

"How can we stop it?" the bench observed, adding that states should take necessary action on these issues as it was impossible for the courts to monitor who is walking and who is not walking.

Srivastava had filed the plea soon after the Aurangabad incident in which 16 migrant workers, who were returning to Madhya Pradesh and had slept on railway tracks, were mowed down by a goods train.

Earlier, the top court had disposed of the PIL seeking migrant workers’ welfare during the pandemic and consequential lockdown saying that the Centre and states are taking appropriate steps to provide them relief. PTI

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