Two days after the Supreme Court expressed concern over the plight of migrants due to the Coronavirus-induced lockdown, the Centre on Thursday informed the top court that so far 91 lakh labourers have been shifted to their native places since the Shramik Special trains started on May 1.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Central government, also told the apex court that Uttar Pradesh and Bihar account for over 80 per cent of these migrants.
“This is an unprecedented crisis and we are taking unprecedented measures,” Mehta said.
The Centre further asserted that it would not stop its efforts or the train service “till even a single migrant remains”.
According to Live Law, Tushar Mehta told the court that the mechanism of transporting migrants is working at state levels.
“So [the Centre] will have to get feedback from the states,” he said and added, “I am not shifting responsibility. All states are working in tandem.”
The Solicitor General told the apex court that the Centre is doing a lot to contain the Coronavirus outbreak, but there are “Prophets of Doom in our country who only spread negativity, negativity, negativity”.
“These armchair intellectuals do not recognise the nation’s efforts,” he added.
On being asked by the Supreme Court to provide an estimation of time needed to transport all migrants, Mehta said the states would be in a better position to determine that.
During the hearing, the Supreme Court said the court needs clarity with respect to who will pay the fare of migrant workers. To this, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, “Some originating state pays, some receiving state paying. Some states are reimbursing… Food and drinking water provided by railways free of cost. The first meal is provided by state govt. Indian railways has given 84 lakh meals… For 80 percent plus migrants state of Destination is UP or Bihar.”
The Supreme Court had on Tuesday taken suo motu cognizance of problems faced by the migrant labourers who are stranded in different parts of the country due to the nationwide lockdown to contain the Coronavirus outbreak.
The top court said media reports have been continuously showing the unfortunate and miserable conditions of migrant labourers walking on foot or cycling for long distances.
“Although the government of India and state governments have taken measures, there have been inadequacies and certain lapses. We are of the view that effective concentrated efforts are required to redeem the situation”, said a bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah.
The bench then posted the matter for hearing on May 28, and asked the Registry to serve a copy to the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, as well states and Union Territories. The cognizance has been taken after several petitions were filed in the top court highlighting the plight of migrant workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
“In the present situation of lockdown in the entire country, this section of society needs succor and help by 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,” said the top court.
The top court said it has also received several letters and representations from different sections of society highlighting the problem of migrant labourers. “The crisis of migrant labourers is even continuing today with large sections still stranded on roads, highways, railway stations and state borders”, said the bench.
Adequate transport arrangement, food and shelters are immediately to be provided by the Centre and State Governments free of costs, added the bench.
“They (migrants) have also been complaining about not being provided food and water by the administration at places where they were stranded or on the way i.e. highways from which they proceeded on foot, cycles or other modes of transport”, said the apex court.
Issuing notice to the Centre and all states/Union Territories, the top court asked them to submit their responses looking into the urgency of the matter.
“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 to the notice of the court all measures and steps taken or to be by the government of India in this regard”, said the bench.
Amid the nationwide lockdown, thousands of daily wagers and other migrants have undertaken epic journeys to reach home — walking, cycling and hitching rides when they could — in the absence of any public transport.
The unprecedented move to stem the spread of COVID-19 triggered possibly the biggest movement of people since Partition.
Several migrant workers have lost their lives in road accidents while travelling back to their homes.
Earlier this month, 24 labourers were killed and at least 15 injured when the truck they were travelling in collided with another in Uttar Pradesh’s Auraiya district.
In another major incident, on 8 May, 16 migrants, who were sleeping on the railway tracks while returning to their native places in Madhya Pradesh amid the Coronavirus-induced lockdown, were crushed to death after they were run over by a goods train between Maharashtra’s Jalna and Aurangabad.
Earlier the Supreme Court, in the wake of rise in road accidents, had said that it was “impossible” for anyone to stop migrant workers from walking back to their homes and refused to direct the Central government to give them shelter or free transportation.