Sunday, June 4, 2023

SC Directs State Govts To Exempt Migrant Workers From Paying Travel Charges

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The Supreme Court of India on Thursday has issued several directions the State Governments while hearing to the Suo Motu Petition for Migrant Labourers in the Country.

The directions passed by the Apex Court are as follows: –

  1. No fare either by train or bus shall be charged for migrant workers. Railway fare to be shared by states.
  2. Migrant workers who are stranded shall be provided food by the concerned state at places which shall be publicised and notified for the period that they are waiting for their turn.
  3. Originating state shall provide meal and water at the station and during the journey, railways to provide meal and water to migrant workers.
  4. The state shall oversee the registration of migrant workers and states to ensure that after registration, they are made to board the train or bus at an early date.
  5. All necessary details regarding number of migrants, plan for transportation mechanism of registration and other details should be brought on record in the reply.As and when the state governments put in a request for trains, railways have to provide them.

The Three Judges Bench comprising of Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul & Justice M.R. Shah heard the matter wherein Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh appeared for petitioner in “Medha Patkar vs. Union of India” and Senior Advocates Mr Kapil Sibbal, Mr. Colin Gonsalves, Ms. Indira Jaising along with P. Chidambaram were appearing in the Suo Motu Petition for Migrant Labourers.

Lawyers for state such as Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and U.P. Home Secretary were also present in the hearing today. Also, were seen as well on the screen.

Mr Tushar Mehta made following submissions

  1. We are immensely grateful to your Lordships for having taken cognizance, centre and states all have a responsible and August forum where we can point out steps that have taken place, Some isolated incidents have taken place but these are being shown repeatedly, we have filed a preliminary report. Give me time to orally say what I’ve said. initially the lockdown had a 2 fold purpose – to control the virus and to strengthen and enhance the hospitals. initially lockdown declared on 24 march with twofold purpose- to break the chain of virus and second to enhance and strengthen hospitals and healthcare, Now there is move to shift the migrants. 
  2. Government will not stop efforts or trains till even a signle migrant remain.We started shramik special trains. Because of some unfortunate incidents what’s actually happened has not been placed in public domain. Between 1-27 may 3700 special trains for migrants operating. 50 lakh migrants already shifted.Center and all state governments working fully in cooperation across party lines.Some misery some problems are arisin.Total shifting is 1.85 lakh migrants per day through avg train journey of 187 trains.
  3. There are neighbouring states, Gujarat and Rajasthan, MP and Maharashtra– it was decided that where distance between origination state and migration state is less we will use road transport– 40 lakh shifted by road.
  4. There are certain neighbouring states for which is was decided (by the central govt with cooperation of state govts). It was decided that for neighbouring states we will use road transport and a total of 47 lakh migrants have been shifted, this takes the tally to 3 lakh 36 thousand migrants being moved per day.Transport from one state to another is done in coordination with originating state.
  5. This movement of migrants is done in coordination with the originating state, receiving state and railway ministry

The Court then asked the SG that it needs clarity with respect to who will pay the fare, on which the SG replied “some originating state pays, some receiving state paying. Some states are reimbursing, Food and drinking water provided by railways free of cost.Indian railways have given 84 lakh meals, the first meal is provided by state govt. once the train starts, the food is provided by the railway Ministry. If the journey is short then one meal and if it’s long then 2 meals. Similarly, for 80% plus migrants’ state of Destination is UP or Bihar, they are screened again. This we are doing to ensure they don’t pass on the infection.

P.S. Narsimha, Senior Advocate for State of Uttar Pradesh said that 18 lakh persons have been shifted and 1335 trains have been running.176 trains commissioned. 96 special trains.  At every stage they have now established a mechanism. Apart from transporting 18 lakh persons, camps have been established, food is being provided in these camps.

Then, Adv Manish Kumar appearing for Bihar said that “10 lakh people received by road.Depending on the state of origin, these people are being placed in centres where facilities are being provided by the state. They have been given gas and all other essential things. There are quarantine centres at block level, Panchayat level and village level.People from same source area being kept at the same centre”.

Bench replied that“we are much concerned about transportation of those who are stranded. There are several parts of the problem.You are telling about the second part after they reach the state, you are telling us the second part- what happens after the reach there etc, you seem to be the only state working on reimbursing the migrants. But the migrants should first have money in their pockets for them to be reimbursed.No Migrant should be charged any fare. There has to be some arrangements between states about who bears the cost.

Advocate for State of Rajasthan said that “we have transit camps at borders. We have got 7.5 lakh persons”. Thereafter, the Advocate for U.P said to the Court that it’s very important for the states to file affidavits so that the good work that is being done is recognised.Every state needs to give report. Time given by court was very short. It’s important for states to file report so the good work being done by the states is recognised.

The Court replied by saying that it will be granting time to the States to file reports.

Later, when Kapil Sibbal started arguing, the Solicitor General objects and said that this court cannot be made a political platform.

Mr Sibbal made following submissions-

  1. Under the DMA, whenever there is a disaster, a national plan should be prepared by the NEC which is then approved by the DM authority presided over by the PM, under DMA, there is a section 12 which provides for minimum standards of relief.
  2. there is a Disaster Management act. Under this a national plan has to be prepared. National plan is prepared by the National executive committee and approved by NDMA, minimum standards include shelter, food, drinking water, medical cover and sanitation.since this is under the act, till date no minimum standards have been set up for any of the above categories, while there is a national plan, there also has to be a state plan and a district plan and there has to be coordination amongst them all
  3. All responsibility has been shifted to state governments.There has to be coordination between national, state and district plans. If 91 lakhs were transported in 27 days, it should take another 3 months to transport 4.5 crore migrants.
  4. No plan pointed out in the centre’s affidavit. Not on the state level or district level.if it’s going to take 3 months to transport rest of the people, what are the arrangements?trains running on 3% capacity.
  5. According to to 1911 census the migrant labour was more than 3 crore. By 2020 the number should be about 4 Crores. If they have transported 91 lakh people in 27 days what about the others. There are people who don’t speak Hindi, there are migrants from other states who are not able to communicate.When someone comes to register how does he register? There are migrants who don’t speak the hindi language or the language of the state they live in.What food is being provided to them? Pulses is not the answer. Where will they cook all this?

Adv Rahul chitnis for Maharashtra said about the expense made, on which the Court said that“we are not interested in the expense. We want to know how many people are waiting in the queue to go back home?How many people are still waiting? Are you providing them food or not? Much affected state is Maharashtra”.

Bench said that “all states must file their reports”.

Sr. Lawyer, Indira Jaising contentions: –

  1. everyone has been heard except the workers themselves.
  2. we are giving statistics based on the press release issued by the Indian railways.We got numbers of migrants from the report filed by the Center in the alakhalok Shrivastava case.
  3. How many days will it take to ensure that every migrant reaches home?They’re asking for pre booking registration. Information about where and how are trains going to depart. 
  4. They published schedule for Vandebharat, but not for these trains.

We are at present concerned with the miseries and difficulty of migrants trying to get to their native place, we are currently concerned with all migrant workers who are keen to go back to their native states.Although there is no doubt that concerned state governments and UTs are taking steps, there are several lapses. In the process of registration, transportation, providing food and shelter to the migrants. It is seen that even after registration the migrants have to wait for a long time for their turns to come.

Even after registration migrants have to wait for their turn to board the train or bus. Large number of migrants still proceeding by foot though SG says there are instructions to state governments to facilitate a bus or vehicle if any migrants are seen walking on foot”, said the Supreme Court.

-India Legal Bureau

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