New Delhi, May 15: The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a plea seeking a direction to the Centre to ask all District Magistrates to identify stranded migrant workers walking on the roads, and provide shelter and food to them before ensuring their free transportation to native places.
The apex court observed that it is impossible for courts to monitor or stop the movement of migrant workers across the country, and that the state governments should take necessary action in this regard, The Indian Express reported.
Stranded in several states after the coronavirus-induced lockdown, thousands of migrant labourers have been walking hundreds of kilometres on the roads to reach home.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta whether there was any way to stop these migrants workers from walking on the roads. To this, Mehta said states are providing inter-state transport to the migrant workers but if the people start walking on foot instead of waiting for transportation, then nothing can be done.
Mehta further contended that authorities can only request these people not to start walking on foot, arguing that using any force to stop them would be counter-productive. He also told the bench, which was hearing the matter through video-conferencing, that subject to the agreement between state governments everybody would get a chance to travel to their destinations.
Filing the petition, advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava referred to recent incidents of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh where migrant workers were killed in accidents on highways.
“How can we stop it?” the bench, which also comprised Justices S K Kaul and B R Gavai observed, adding that states should take necessary action on these issues. The bench, which said it was not inclined to hear the plea, observed that it is impossible for the court to monitor who is walking and who is not walking.
Srivastava had filed the plea soon after the Aurangabad incident in which 16 migrant workers, who were returning to Madhya Pradesh and had slept on railway tracks, were mowed down by a goods train.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has said it was the responsibility of the states to persuade migrant workers to not walk on the roads and facilitate their travel by Shramik special trains. This is the third time Centre has reminded the states of their responsibility towards migrant workers.
In the latest letter sent by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, MHA has said, “As you are aware, Government has allowed the movement of migrant workers by buses and ‘Shramik’ special trains to enable them to travel to their native places. It is now the responsibility of all States and Union Territories to ensure that movement of stranded migrant workers who are willing to go to their home States is facilitated. States/UTs should widely disseminate the arrangements for travel in special buses/’Shramik’ special trains amongst the migrant workers and persuade/counsel them that they should not be walking when they can travel in buses/trains.”
On May 11, it had written a similar letter to states expressing concern over migrants walking on the roads and rail tracks. It had asked states to counsel them and take them to nearby shelters. They were to be provided food and shelter until they could be made to board one of the special trains.