The Supreme Court on Friday asked all State Governments to send back migrants who have been stuck since the imposition of the lockdown within 15 days even as it reserved its order on the show motu petition on the plight of migrant labour for June 9.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan and comprising Justices SK Kaul and MR Shah said all those who wanted to go back should be sent back after a prolonged hearing during which lawyers representing Centre, States and Union Territories and others took part. The lawyers gave detailed statements about the situation in their respective states, each being different from their neighbouring states.
As the hearing begins, the Solicitor General, Mr. Tushar Mehta said that the Centre has filed an affidavit yesterday. “we have also answered the query you incorporated in the last order”, said the SG.
On the statement made by the SG that they have on record a chart which shows how many workers yet to be shifted and how many trains are required for the said purpose. The bench replied that “according to your chart Maharashtra has only asked for one train”.
Thereafter, the bench puts the question in front of SG that “should we take that to mean that no other person will be going to Maharashtra?” and SG replied by saying “that’s what the Maharashtra government has told us and any state puts in a request for any number of trains are being provided by the govt within 24 hours”.
Later, the bench said that they will ask the States to submit their demands to the railways.
Justice Ashok Bhushan has said that “according to you (SG), more trains are not required in Maharashtra and Bihar?” thereafter he says that the bench will propose 15 days’ time so that States can be permitted to effectuate completion of transport.
“We’ll issue some directions in this regard. What we intend to do is we will give you & States 15 days’ time to transport all migrants. All states will bring on record on how they will provide employment and other kind of relief. There should be registration of the migrants”, Justice Bhushan.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves intervene by saying that “the registration system is not working, which is a major problem. Which is why half the number of migrant workers were not able to register to even go back. Two High Courts have made observations on the registration system. It needs to be simplified”.
On Justice Bhushan’s query that “you are saying that there is a problem in the manner of working of this system? What is the solution? Sr. Lawyer replied by saying that “you can have spots at police stations or other places where migrants can go and physically fill the registration forms”.
Also, another Sr Lawyer Ms. Indira Jaising took part by saying that “the problem is that these migrants are being treated like any other passengers who want to travel on a train”.
SG asks the bench for interveners to not be heard as those who have not contributed in COVID management should not be heard.
On the behalf of State of Gujarat, Sr. Adv Mr Maninder Singh made a statement to the Court that “No further details enquiry is required. Out of 22 lakhs, 20.5 lakhs have been transported back”. Maharashtra’s Counsel adds on by saying that “11 lakh migrants have gone back only 38000 remain”.
Also, ASG Sanjay Jain for Delhi says that “they are ensuring that the earlier orders of the Supreme Court asking for migrants to not be charged are being followed and they are also working on providing free food to the workers. Around 2 lakh workers are still here. They are choosing not to go back only a small number are expressing a desire to go back. Less than 10,000”.
Bench replied by saying that “15 days is the optimum time to be given to states to transport migrants who want to go back”.
Thereafter, P.S Narasimha for UP participated by saying that 104 special trains were organised and over 1 lakh migrants were transported back to UP from various parts of India, at no point of time state is charging from labourers. People who are original residents of UP are working in different parts of the country from Delhi borders, 5 lakh 50 thousand labourers were brought from the borders of Delhi back to UP.
“1664 shramik trains were organized in an extraordinary measure,21.69 lakhs were brought back, buses did more than 10,000 trips. SG has referred to his counter affidavit in which the list specifies the trains demanded by states. We have reached a state of equilibrium today, health has to be ensured”, said the P.S Narasimha Rao.
Bihar Counsel Mr. Ranjit Kumar contributed by stating that “28 lakh people returned, Bihar Government is taking steps for providing employment, 10 lakh people skill mapping has been done by Bihar Government”.
“3,97,389 stranded migrants still in West Bengal. In relief camps we are still serving around 1 lakh meals.The data of the number of people who have registered has still not been uploaded so we are still not sure.we have sent a letter saying that we will provide any and every assistance required to bring people back”, contended by Bengal Lawyer.
Karnataka Counsel to bench- “we have filed a detailed affidavit. From May 3, we have facilitated over 3 lakh migrant workers. There are lakhs of migrants still in the state. If 15 days’ time is given, we will facilitate the transfer”.
Orissa Counsel to bench–“We are taking extra care and precautions because a lot of migrants are travelling back to their home states via our states”.
Sr Lawyer Mr. Kapil Sibbal had sought directions from the bench by saying that “please direct the govt to respond to my arguments on the DMA. They have filed an affidavit but they haven’t responded to my questions. Let them file an exhaustive affidavit, the process of registration should also be decentralized, most of these Shramiks are illiterate. It’ll be easier to get the data if the registration is decentralized and migrants are allowed to register in person”.
Earlier, on 28th May, the directions were passed by the Apex Court that “No fare either by train or bus shall be charged for migrant workers. Railway fare to be shared by states. 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. Originating State shall provide meal and water at the station and during the journey, railways to provide meal and water to migrant workers. 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. 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”.
-India Legal Bureau