By- Chiranjeevi Sarin, Director at Sabkuch Legal Private Limited
Plight of migrant workers
The situation of migrant workers observed in the last couple of weeks is condemnable and a sorry sight. Hundreds of migrant workers have died in the last few weeks due to various reasons including road accidents and starvation. Media has been flooded with despairing news of plight of migrant workers paining every citizen of the country. The government of India has been quite vocal about the actions taken by it to help the migrant workers but they haven’t done enough. The inability of government to tackle the woes of migrant workers is evident and clear. Considering the grave situation of migrant workers, Supreme Court of India has taken Suo moto cognizance and issued praiseworthy orders. The Court’s reluctance to intervene may have stemmed from a belief in letting the executive handle the fallout of an unprecedented global crisis, but, in the process, it abandoned its primary responsibility of protecting fundamental rights, especially of those most vulnerable.
Supreme Court order pertaining to migrant workers
The Supreme Court on Thursday forbid the railways and State governments from exacting train or bus fares from stranded migrant workers waiting to return home amid the national lockdown. The court directed that the State from where workers started their journey and the State where they were headed should pool their travel expenses between them. Workers waiting for their transport should be provided shelter, food and water by the State responsible. During train journey, railways would be in charge of providing migrant workers drinking water and meals. In case of bus journeys, the State where they started from had to take care of their food and water.
Further, the court said that those found walking should be escorted to the nearest camps where they should be looked after. States should simplify and speed up the process of registration of migrant workers. After registration, they should be allowed to board buses or trains at the earliest. The receiving State, after the workers reached their native place, shall provide transport, health screening and other facilities free of cost. The court ordered States to set up help kiosks at places where migrant workers were stranded.
Lapses by the Government and the road ahead
A three-judge Bench observed in a six-page order in the suo motu case: “State Governments / Union Territories are taking steps to do the needful but there are several difficulties and lapses which are being noticed in the process of registration, transportation and in providing water, food, shelter to these migrant workers. It is also seen that even after registration, the migrant workers have to wait for a period which may go from a week to month for their turn to board the bus / train. A large number of migrant workers are still seen proceeding on foot to different places”. Besides these interim directions, the court also sought details from the government on the number of stranded workers, plans for their registration and transportation. A hearing has been scheduled for June 5.