The Madras High Court on Friday suo moto directed the Central Government and the Government of Tamil Nadu to submit an action taken report on the measures taken to alleviate the sufferings of migrant workers amid the COVID-19 lockdown situation.
"It is a pity to see the migrant labourers walking for days together to reach their native places and in the process, some of them had lost their lives due to accidents. The Government authorities of all the States should have extended their human services to those migrant labourers", observed a bench comprising Justices N Kirubakaran and R Hemalatha.
"One cannot control his/her tears after seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers shown in the media for the past one month. It is nothing but a human tragedy", the Court observed in the order.
The Court further observed :
"When the lock down was announced at the end of March 2020, lakhs and lakhs of migrant workers were stranded throughout the country. Most of the workers lost their jobs, no shelter is said to have been provided apart from lack of supply of adequate food. After waiting for a considerable time, they started migrating to their native states by foot. It is very unfortunate that those persons were neglected by all the authorities. The heart breaking stories are reported in the print as well as visual media that millions of workers were compelled to start walking to their native States with their little children carrying all their belongings over their head, surviving on the food provided by good Samaritans, as no steps were taken by the Governments to help those migrant workers. It is also reported that some people starved to death due to hunger."
The Court made a special reference to the Aurangabad train tragedy, where 16 migrant workers were crushed to death by a moving goods train during their journey back to native place.
"Even after the sorrow and sufferings of the migrant workers were reported in the media, nothing happened for the past one month as there was no coordinated effort between the States", the bench lamented.
The Court stated that it is not only the duty of the native State of the migrant workers but also the duty of the States where they were working to care for their safety and well being.
Toll gates could have made as checking points to provide food & relief to walking migrants
The Court observed that there are a number of toll gates available and those toll gates should have been made as checking points to provide food, shelter and medical help to the migrant labourers.
"However, it is very pathetic to note that neither the native States nor the States through which they were walking all along took care of them and failed to provide even the basic amenities such as food and shelter and even if they had been provided, they were negligible", the Court noted in this regard.
"First of all, relevant data of those persons who were working as migrant labourers in all States have to be collected; The host State in which they were working should be made accountable for the safety and well being of the migrant labourers, for which all the States are expected to act in unison, rendering assistance to those poorer sections", the Court suggested.
The Court made these observations while considering a habeas corpus petition seeking production of around 400 Tamil workers who were stated to be stranded in Sangli district in Maharashtra.
Migrant Workers Cases : SC Failed To Rise To The Occasion
The Court also acknowledged that the Central Government has come out with relief measures including rental housing facility, free food grains without ration card.
The Court suo moto impleaded the Central Government and the Government of Tamil Nadu, and sought the following information from them :
1. Whether any data is being maintained by the Government of India regarding the details of migrant workers working in each State/Union Territories in India?
2. If so, what is the number of migrant workers in each State/Union Territories in India and the details regarding their nativity?
3. What is the number of migrant workers stranded in each State/Union Territories in India as on today?
4. What are all the assistance provided to those migrant workers by the respective States as well as the Union Government?
5. Whether those migrant workers are allowed to cross the State borders or prevented from crossing the borders and if they are prevented, whether they are provided with basic amenities such as food, shelter and medical assistance?
6. How many migrant workers died on their way to the native States?
7. To which States/Union Territories, the deceased workers belong to?
8. What are the relief measures/compensation provided to the families of those migrant workers who lost their lives on their way back to their native States?
9. How many migrant workers in each State/Union Territories have been evacuated from their working States to their native States through buses/trains throughout India?
10.What are all the steps taken to transport the remaining people to their native States?
11.Whether migration of people is one of the reasons for spread of Covid-19?
12.Whether the Central Government has instructed the respective States/Union Territories to provide financial assistance, job opportunities in their native State/Union Territories for the labourers who migrated from other States?
The bench has directed the both the governments to place before the Court an 'Action Taken Report' on these aspects. The case will be next considered on May 22.
On Friday, the Supreme Court had refused to entertain a plea seeking relief for migrants walking on road.
"How can we stop them from walking? It is impossible for this Court to monitor who is walking and who is not walking?", the bench orally observed while dismissing an application seeking urgent directions to all DMs across India to identify walking labourers and to ensure that they reach their native places, free of cost and in a dignified manner.
Recently, the Karnataka HC had directed the Centre and the State Government to take steps to ensure that no migrant is deprived of an opportunity to travel back to native place on account of incapacity to pay rail fare.
The Gujarat HC on Monday had taken suo moto notice of the migrants issue, observing that many are going hungry and are suffering the worst on account of lockdow.
Click here to download Order