After Supreme Court asked centre to ensure help reached the poor amidst pandemic on Thursday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also issued notice to Gujarat, Bihar, Union Home Secretary, and Ministry of Railways for ‘gross violations’ of rights.
Taking suo motu cognizance the NHRC has issued the notice based on multiple media reports highlighting the plight of poor migrant workers returning home amidst lockdown imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The government started railway services from May 1 to transport the labourers to their states. However, the NHRC observes reports like, trains starting late, also some taking many additional days to reach destination have raised questions on government’s efficiency. “In one of the reports, it is alleged that many migrant labourers lost life during their journey by train due to longer duration and no arrangements for drinking water and food etc” said NHRC.
The Commission said, “the contents of the media reports, if true, amount to gross violations of human rights. The aggrieved families have suffered irrevocable loss. The state has failed to protect the lives of the poor labourers on board the trains.”
NHRC has issued notices to the Chief Secretaries of Gujarat and Bihar, Chairman, Railway Board and Union Home Secretary calling for a detailed report in the matter. The Chief Secretaries of the Government of Gujarat and Bihar are expected to specifically inform as to what steps were taken to ensure basic facilities including medical facilities for the migrant labourers who boarded the trains. The response from all the authorities is expected within 4 weeks.
The notice was issued the same day the Supreme Court rapped central government over the migrant workers’ crisis and asked it to pay of travel fare of migrants seeking to return to their home states.
The commission cited reports, of death of two persons in Muzaffarpur and one each in Danapur, Sasaram, Gaya, Begusarai and Jehanabad in Bihar including a 4 year old boy, who died of hunger. Another report of train starting from Surat district in Gujarat for Siwan in Bihar on May 16, 2020 which reached Bihar on May 25, 2020 after 9 days.
Coming down heavily on railway ministry NHRC said, “A train getting late due to bad weather etc. for some hours is always considered beyond control of the authorities but trains getting lost during journey, reaching unexpected destinations and taking more than a week to reach its scheduled station is hard to believe and require a thorough investigation into the matter.”
The commission observed that despite the train services running and the ticket charges being borne by the central and the state governments, the sufferings of the poor labourers are not seemingly coming to an end. “They are put to wait for hours without any arrangements of drinking water, food, shaded shelter and toilets for them. The female labourers, old aged persons, ill persons, small children and specially abled persons are reportedly suffering a lot. Many times the poor labourers have been told to go back as the trains got cancelled.”
“It has emerged from the entire scenario that the people belonging to vulnerable classes have suffered the most. Daily wages workers, small shop owners, rickshaw pullers, cab operators and poor labourers have become the worst victims in the recent days.”