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The top court directed that the receiving state shall provide transport, health screening and other facilities. (HT)
The top court directed that the receiving state shall provide transport, health screening and other facilities. (HT)

SC orders free travel, food for migrant workers going home

  • State to provide food and water at stations or bus stands, Indian Railways responsible for other needs
  • SC directs that railway fares have to be borne by the states and Union territories

NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court on Thursday provided much-needed relief to migrant workers by directing state governments to provide free transport and adequate food to those who seek to go to their home states.

The directive by the apex court bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.R. Shah came in a suo motu action related to the miseries faced by India’s informal workforce hit by the lockdown put in place to check the spread of coronavirus and the subsequent job losses.

The originating state will be responsible for providing food and water at stations and bus stands, while Indian Railways must be held responsible for their requirements during the journey, said the top court.

States must also oversee the registration process of migrant workers and ensure that they board the train or bus at the earliest, the Supreme Court said. It also directed the governments to publicize complete information for all concerned. “We further direct that 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 court said.

The top court also directed that the receiving state shall provide transport, health screening and other facilities free of charge once the migrant workers reach their native places.

The apex court also said that those who were walking along highways to reach their villages should immediately be taken to shelters and provided with food and all necessary facilities.

The court clarified that railway fares have to be borne by the states and Union territories, and the Railways must make arrangements as soon as a state places its request for trains.

The bench directed all the states and Union territories to file a detailed report with details regarding the number of migrants, plans for transportation and registration, besides other related details concerning migrant workers, by 5 June when the case comes up for hearing next.

On Tuesday, the apex court bench took suo motu cognizance of the miseries of the workers and issued notice to the Centre and all states and Union territories.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who represented the Centre, told the court that 3,700 Shramik Special trains had transported 9.1 million migrants to their home states between 1 May and 27 May. As many as 185,000 migrants were being ferried on 187 trains every day by the Railways, he said.

Migrant workers were not being asked to bear the cost of the ticket as the Railway fares were being borne by either the receiving state or originating state, Mehta said.

The top court also heard the submissions by counsels representing Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh governments. The counsel for Bihar submitted that the state has reimbursed the fare to migrants who had paid for their tickets. Uttar Pradesh’s counsel said the state has taken several steps to encourage quarantine of migrants by paying them Rs1,000 in cash, besides providing food.

However, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who represented two NGOs who wanted to be impleaded in the petition, told the court that the government has not provided for the minimum standard of living under Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, because of which people staying in the relief camps are not getting quality food and other items.

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