New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday directed the Narendra Modi government and all states to identify all migrant workers who want to return home and make arrangements for their travel within 15 days.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S.K. Kaul and M.R. Shah ordered the Indian Railways to provide trains to states within 24 hours of their request. This is in addition to the 171 trains, which the states have already asked for.
Both the Centre and states also have to enlist the social welfare schemes meant for the benefit of migrant workers who have returned to their native towns, according to the court order.
States would be under obligation to establish counselling centres that will extend a helping hand to migrants and inform them about the different schemes. The directions also mandate states to maintain details of all migrants who have returned, including the nature of their skill and information related to their past employment.
The court also asked all states and union territories to consider withdrawal of complaints under the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA) lodged against migrants who allegedly violated the measures under lockdown.
The court will next hear the matter on 8 July. By then, the states will submit affidavits on schemes and jobs offered to the workers.
On 5 June, the bench had broadly indicated the directions it was to deliver before reserving orders in the suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) on the migrant crisis. The court had taken cognisance of the problems faced by migrant labourers “stranded in different parts of the country” on 26 May, days after it had refrained from entertaining a petition seeking its intervention on the matter.
‘One crore migrants have returned’
During the Supreme Court hearing last week, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had told the court that “approximately one crore migrant workers” reached their hometowns until 3 June, for which the Indian Railways had deployed 4,270 trains.
Refuting allegations that passengers had died due to lack of food and water, Mehta said migrants suffering with pre-existing ailments died during train journeys.
Over 1,600 of these trains had terminating stations in Uttar Pradesh, which as a home state received the maximum number of migrants, Mehta pointed out from his affidavit that enlisted steps Centre has taken for the return of migrants.
The counsel for states told the court about the number of migrants sent back as well as those stranded.
Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also claimed labourers were now unwilling to go back home after the lockdown was eased considerably earlier this month. Kerala was the only state that expressed inability to pay the costs incurred on transporting migrants. The court, however, rejected this submission.
“We will order all states to register the migrants who live in states. Governments (of states) should be able to facilitate it if they want to go back. Every village head should know how many migrants have returned. There should be a counsellor centre in every district to facilitate their return, if they want to go back to places where they worked,” Justice Bhushan said.
Migrants left behind not willing to go back
According to the Modi government affidavit, a total of 171 Shramik trains are now required to facilitate the return of migrants from cities.
During the hearings, Mehta claimed the Centre was in constant touch with states that have been promised train services within 24 hours of placing a request. He informed the Supreme Court bench that many trains were returning empty, possibly because migrants are joining industries again as lockdown eases and economic activity resumes.
The Karnataka government counsel echoed a similar view. The Uttar Pradesh government, too, is said to have received a feedback from migrants, who have not returned, about their wish to continue working where they are. “Now we have reached equilibrium,” the counsel appearing for UP said, promising the court that the state is taking care of all facilities meant for migrants.
The counsel for states gave an assurance that no migrant was charged for train tickets. According to Maharashtra, over 11 lakh migrants have gone back and only 38,000 remain to be transported, for which only one train was needed. The statement surprised the judges who asked the counsel if the assessment was correct.
Nearly 28 lakh workers have returned and got registered in Bihar, the court was told. The state government has undertaken a skill mapping exercise that has covered 10 lakh migrants. Accordingly, steps are being taken to employ the migrants in the state itself.
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