Don’t charge migrants for journey back home, provide them food: SC to govt

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday asked some searching questions from the Centre on the plight of migrant workers ranging from as to how long they will have to wait before going to their native places to who will pay for their travel and provide them food and shelter.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and M R Shah asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, about the confusion over the payment of travel fare of stranded migrant workers and said that they should not made to pay for their journey back home.

What is the normal time? If a migrant is identified, there must be some certainty that he will be shifted out within one week or ten days at most? What is that time? There had been instances where one state sends migrants but at the border another State says we are not accepting the migrants. We need a policy on this,” the bench told Mehta.

The bench, questioning him over the travel-fare for the migrants, said: In our country, the middlemen will always be there. But we don’t want middlemen to interfere when it comes to payment of fares. There has to be a clear policy as to who will pay for their travel.”

At the outset, Mehta submitted a preliminary report and said that between May 1-27 total of 3,700 special trains have been run for carrying migrant labourers and many have been shifted by road to bordering states.

He said 91 lakh migrant workers have been shifted to their native places till Wednesday.

Millions of migrant workers were stranded across the country without food, shelter and transportation after the nationwide lockdown was announced from March 25 at 4-hour notice to combat the spread of global pandemic, Coivd-19.

They then started walking hundreds of miles to reach their homes, leading to miserable plight.

The bench sought to know from Mehta that with food surplus available with the Food Corporation of India (FCI), during the time migrant workers are waiting to be transported, is food being supplied to them.

It said that why there should be shortage of food and shelter for the migrant workers and it should be provided to them till they get transport for travel.

Questioning the delay over transportation of migrants, the bench said that it is a major problem and many have been waiting for weeks after their registration for journey to their native places.

The top court said that food needs are to be provided to the migrant workers by the originating State or the Centre, as the question of receiver state providing the food would come only after they reach there.

The bench said it needs to be ensured that till the time the migrants are transported back to their homes, food, shelter and other essentials are taken care of.

It also asked the Centre to tell the time needed to shift all the migrants to places where they wanted to go and what would be the mechanism to ensure food and basic amenities to them.

Mehta said the information with regard to the time frame can be provided by the State government.

To this, the bench said that it is not that the government is not doing anything but looking at the number of stranded migrants, some concrete steps need to be taken.

It also asked Centre about the status of migrant workers who are not living in shelter homes and many of them are still living in their rented homes.

The top court asked about the estimated time required to shift the migrants and the arrangements made for that saying is there any mechanism in place and whether the migrant workers know that they would be transported on fifth day, seventh day of tenth day.

On May 26, the top court had taken cognizance of the miseries of migrant workers and said there have been inadequacies and certain lapses by the Centre and the states, and asked them to provide transport, food and shelter immediately free of cost.

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