New Delhi, June 9: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said migrant workers should not be prosecuted for trying to reach home amid the national lockdown.

A Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan directed the Centre and the States to withdraw any complaint or prosecution lodged against migrant labourers who had set out on foot from big cities for their native villages to escape starvation, unemployment and disease during the pandemic, The Hindu reported.

The court said “society as a whole was moved by their miseries and difficulties”.

“States/Union Territories to consider withdrawal of prosecution/complaints under Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act and other related offences lodged against migrant labourers who are alleged to have violated lockdown measures by moving on roads”, it directed.

A migrant worker who walked home would have faced a year in prison or been fined or suffered both if found guilty of obstructing the law under Section 51 of the Act.

The Bench, also comprising Justices S.K. Kaul and M.R. Shah, ordered the States and the UTs to bring the stranded migrant workers home within the next 15 days.

It ordered the railways to provide the States with 171 more Shramik Special trains within the next 24 hours to transport migrant workers

“The process of transportation by rail and road has to be completed by all the States and the Union Territories so that the next stage of attending the needs of the migrant labourers can be looked into, ie, source of employment, provision of food and ration for them”, the 38-page order reasoned.

The court asked the Directors General of Police to direct their personnel to deal with the migrant workers humanely. It said there were instances of police excesses despite otherwise doing a “commendable job”.

“Migrant labourers are forced to proceed to their native place after cessation of their employment. They are already suffering. They have to dealt by the police and other authorities in a humane manner”, it observed.

The court squarely placed the onus on the Centre, the States and the UTs to provide details of employment and benefits schemes to the returned workers.

The Bench directed that counselling centres should be set up to reach out to them and explain the various schemes framed for their rehabilitation and employment. The centres should freely provide information and even “extend helping hand” to those workers who want to return to their places of past employment.

The States and UTs were directed to conduct extensive skill-mapping of the returned workers at village and block levels.

The court passed the order after suo motu taking cognisance of the migrant workers’ exodus. The next hearing is on July 8.

In a retort to the government criticism of High Courts running a “parallel government” with their orders on migrants, the apex court said, “High Courts, as constitutional courts, were well within their jurisdiction to take cognisance of violation of fundamental rights of migrant workers and we have no doubt that those proceedings shall proceed”.

The top court reminded that the job of a government was not merely about churning out policies, declaring measures and funds. It included “strict vigilance and supervision as to whether those measures, schemes, benefits reaches to those to whom they are meant”.

The court applauded the passion and devotion shown by individuals who came forward to help the migrant workers. It recognised the contributions of NGOs that pitched in for migrant workers and helped fight the pandemic by providing food, water and transportation at their own cost.

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