SC signal to Centre, states: 15 days to transport all stranded migrant workers

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Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi | Published: June 6, 2020 4:02:46 am

Migrants laborers with families waiting for their turn for medical scanning before the board on the CTU bus and going Railway station Chandigarh, at CCET sector 26, Chandigarh.

THE SUPREME Court said on Friday that it intends to give the Centre and states 15 days to complete the process of transporting all stranded migrant workers to their home states. It also asked states to give information on “how they will provide employment and other kinds of relief” to the returnees.

“What we intend to do is give you and the states 15 days time to transport all migrants. States should bring on record how they will provide employment and other kinds of relief to migrants who returned. There should be registration of migrants,” Justice Ashok Bhushan told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who appeared for the Centre.

The bench, which included Justices S K Kaul and M R Shah, was hearing a suo motu petition on the issue of migrant workers. Reserving its order, the bench said it would pass detailed guidelines next week. It said states should prepare a village-wise list of returnees.

On May 28, the court had taken suo motu cognizance of the plight of migrants, and said they should not be made to pay their fare. It also sought detailed responses from the Centre and states on what they were doing to ensure their safe return home.

Mehta told the bench Friday that the Indian Railways had operated 4,270 Shramik Special trains so far, and about 1 crore migrants had reached their destinations. Most of these trains were sent to Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, he said.

He said the Centre had sought information from the states on how many migrant workers were still stranded and how many trains were required. “Only the state governments can tell this court how many migrants are yet to be shifted and how many trains will be required,” he said, adding that an additional 171 trains are required now.

He said he had a chart to illustrate how many workers were still stranded and how many trains were required. The bench, which perused the chart, said, “according to your chart, Maharashtra has asked for only one train?”

Confirming this, Mehta said, “we have already run 802 trains from Maharashtra”. He said any request from the states for trains is cleared by the Centre within 24 hours.

“We will ask all states to submit their demands to the Railways,” the bench said.

The Maharashtra government counsel said over 11 lakh migrant workers had returned to their home states, and only 38,000 more remained.

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Senior Advocate P S Narasimha, appearing for Uttar Pradesh, said: “1,664 Shramik Special trains were organised… in an extraordinary measure… 21.69 lakh (workers) were brought back… we have reached a state of equilibrium today… health has to be ensured.” He said about 5.5 lakh workers from UP were transported from the borders of Delhi.

He said the UP government had also sent back about 1.35 lakh migrant workers to their home states in 104 special trains, and there weren’t any more who wanted to leave.

Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar, who represented Bihar, said the state government had done skill-mapping for 10 lakh migrant workers who had returned, and was taking steps to provide employment.

Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, who appeared for Gujarat, said of the 22 lakh migrant workers in the state, 20.5 lakh had already returned to their home states.

Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain said the Delhi government was ensuring that migrant workers don’t have to pay their fare. He said Delhi still has about 2 lakh migrant workers, but most of them don’t want to go back. Less than 10,000 of them have expressed a desire to return to their home states, he submitted.

The counsel for West Bengal said 3,97,389 migrant workers from other states were still stranded in the state, and about 1 lakh were housed in relief camps.

Intervening, the SG said: “West Bengal will only know the number of people staying in the state who want to go back. They won’t know how many people are staying in Maharashtra who want to come back to Bengal”. Appearing for Tamil Nadu, the state’s Additional Advocate General Jayanti Muth Raj sought more time to file an affidavit on the remaining migrants who need to be sent back.

Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, appearing for Madhya Pradesh, submitted that 25,000 migrant workers were yet to return to the state.

Senior Advocate Manish Singhvi, appearing for Rajasthan, said the state had spent Rs 7.5 crore on migrants.

“We are not on that. We only want to know how many more migrants want to go back home,” the bench said.

Singhvi replied that not many were left, and the state would complete the process in 15 days.

The counsel for Kerala said of the total 4.34 lakh migrant workers in the state, about 2.81 lakh were yet to be sent back. Of these, 1.61 lakh don’t want to leave, he said.

The state also cited financial difficulties and said the Railways should pay their fare. But the Supreme Court said all states must make own arrangements.

Karnataka said that since May 3, it had facilitated the return of over 3 lakh migrant workers. It said the number of those wanting to return to their home states had gone down; only 100 turned up on Thursday, of which 78 were sent back, it said.

Mehta said the Centre had also filed an affidavit listing measures being taken for distribution of food etc. He said all that could be done by a welfare state, under the current circumstances, had been done.

“Earlier also, when the issue was taken up by the Supreme Court, we stated that we were doing our best… All demands by states and all assistance required, will be provided, I have no difficulty,” he submitted.

He said no deaths had taken place on the trains due to non-supply of water, food or medicine. The deaths that occurred were due to existing illnesses, he said.

Appearing for one of the intervenors, Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves said two high courts had made observations on the system followed for registration of migrant workers, and added that the process needs to be simplified. “We will direct all states to bring on record the different kinds of variables involved by states — the nitty gritties. Secondly, the relief after returning to native place,” said Justice Bhushan.

Gonsalves suggested that there should be designated kiosks for filling forms. Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for another intervenor, said the problem was that migrants were being treated like any other passenger.

Objecting to Jaising’s intervention, Mehta said: “I reiterate the stand that I took on the last occasion, that intevenors may not be heard.”

Jaising contested this, and the bench said it would hear her after it had heard Mehta.

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