The Supreme Court (PTI)
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Centre and states not to charge even a penny from migrant workers for transporting them home through rail and road transport and asked the governments to give an estimate of the time it would take to send all stranded migrants back home.
After a three-hour hearing through video conference, a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M R Shah said states must provide a definite time schedule to each migrant worker within which s/he would be provided transport facility to go back home. “When waiting for their turn to board a transport for going home, the migrant worker must be provided free food, shelter and basic amenities by the state governments,” the bench said.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta admitted that there were initial glitches about who would pay the railways for transporting migrant workers from one state to another.
However, the Centre and state governments worked out a mechanism by which the fare would be paid either by the state from which the train/bus originated or by the state receiving the migrants. “All states, irrespective of political and ideological affiliation of the ruling party, have worked in tandem and done their best in this regard,” he said.
The SG said between May 1 and 27, the governments had sent 91 lakh migrant workers home on 3,700 Shramik Special trains and buses. “At present, the government is willing to provide as many trains as the states want to send back those migrant workers who want to go home. But since industries are gradually opening, many do not want to travel back home,” he added.
The bench said after taking care of the immediate problems faced by migrant workers in reaching their homes, the court would dwell on other issues. “We would like to examine in future what arrangements for employment and food should be made by the respective state governments for migrant workers who have arrived after leaving their workplaces,” the bench said.
The SC asked the Centre and states to furnish details of the action plan for evacuation of stranded migrant labourers by June 5. When senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the central government had left states in the lurch by not preparing a national plan to address the pandemic, Mehta said there was a national plan under the Disaster Management Act and states had also framed similar plans.
Sibal said under Section 12 of the DMA, the government was bound to provide proper sanitation, food, shelter, medical cover and means of livelihood to those hit by the pandemic. The SC asked Mehta to respond to Sibal’s arguments in the response affidavit.
The bench, however, did not permit politicising of the hearing by refusing, for the time being, to entertain interventions by Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala. Even Sibal and A M Singhvi were allowed to address the court as lawyers and not as counsel for their clients. Former finance minister and senior advocate P Chidambaram was visible on the video screen for some time, but he disappeared after the court said it would not allow politicisation of the hearing.