The Supreme Court on Thursday posed several questions to the Central Government on the issues concerning migrant workers, who have been stranded during the lockdown.
A bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and M R Shah was considering the suo moto case titled "In Re: Problems and Miseries Of Migrant Workers".
At first, the bench sought clarity as to who bears the fare for the train journey of migrants to their native states.
The Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, replied "either the receiving state pays to the railways or originating state pays. In some cases, the money is reimbursed by the receiving state".
The SG said that the pricing of the rail fare of migrants cannot be centralized at the central level, and hence the matter was left to the State Governments to sort out.
The bench however observed that such an arrangement was "creating a block", and spoke about the need for a "uniform policy"
"Migrant won't know which state has to pay or what transport is even available. There needs to be a uniform policy, else it will create confusion".
When the bench was told that some states, like Bihar, has the policy of reimbursing the rail fare to the workers, the bench observed that even to claim reimbursement, the migrant should have money at the first place.
"The person should have money in their pocket in the first place. No migrant should be charged any fare. There has to be some arrangements between states about who bears the cost", the bench remarked.
The bench further asked about the duration required for the transport of migrants, and their waiting period after registration for the journey.
"Are these people who are going to be transported, are being asked to shell out any money at any stage? With food surplus available with the FCI, is food being supplied to them while they wait for being transported back?", the bench asked.
"How much time do you need to shift the migrants to where they want to go? What will be monitoring mechanism to ensure that food and basic necessities are taken care of?, the bench continued.
The bench added that it was not saying that the Centre was not doing anything, but said that "some further steps need to be taken".
"How many days will be required to transport all the migrants back to their states?", the bench further asked.
The SG replied that approximately 1 crore migrants have already been shifted. Several workers opted not to shift due to the reopening of activities. States would be in a better position to estimate that, he explained.
"What is the estimation of time that is required to shift the migrants? What are the arrangements being made? What is the mechanism in place? Do the people know if they'll be shifted on 5th day, 7th day or 10th day?", the bench persisted.
"If a migrant is identified(for travel), there must be some certainty that he will be shifted out within 1 week or 10 days at most? What is that time?", the bench sought to know.
The Solicitor General replied that the exact information will be available with the States, and said that the States can file a report regarding the same.
"I will gather that information and come back. The mechanism is working at state levels, so will have to get feedback from the states. I am not shifting responsibility. All states are working in tandem", he said.
Earlier, the Solicitor General informed the bench that migrants were being shifted at the rate of 1.85 lakh migrants per day through trains. 50 lakh migrants have been shifted by rail and 47 migrants via road transport, the SG said.
The Indian railways have provided 84 lakh meals free of cost, he informed.
"Food & drinking water is provided by railways free of cost. The first meal is provided by State Govt. Once the train starts, the food is provided by the rail min. If the journey is short then one meal and if it's long then 2 meals", he added.
Once the migrants reach their states, they are screened for infections. Many states follow mandatory quarantine protocols with respect to incoming migrants, he added.
The SG also said that there were "isolated incidents" of migrants crisis, which were being shown repeatedly in media.
"Repeated reporting of isolated incident has a deep impact", he remarked.
He also added that "local instigation" led to the migrants' walk in many cases.
"In many cases there is local level instigation which is encouraging people to start walking. Those who started walking, when the state found them, the bus goes to them immediately and takes them to the nearest railway station", he said.
The SG also undertook to file a report regarding the supply of food grains to migrants who are found on roads, outside shelter homes.
After the hearing, the bench passed an interim order, stating :
No fare either by train or bus shall be charged for migrant workers. Railway fare to be shared by states.
Migrant workers shall be provided food by the concerned state and UT at places- To be publicised & notified for the period they are waiting for their turn to board a train or a bus.
During train journey, originating states will provide meal & water.
Railways to provide meal and water to migrant workers . Food and water to also be provided in buses.
State shall oversee the registration of migrants & states to ensure that after registration, they are made to board transport as early as possible.
Those migrant workers found walking on the roads, immediately be taken to shelters & provided food and all facilities.
The bench also directed the Centre to place on record information regarding number of migrants awaiting , transportation to native places, plan for transportation and mechanism of registration and other requisite details.
"As and when the state governments put in a request for trains, railways has to provide them", the bench further ordered.
The matter will be considered next on June 5.
(With inputs from tweets by Sanya Talwar)