New Delhi, June 5: The Supreme Court indicated Friday it would fix a 15-day deadline for the Centre and states to transport all migrants back to their homes, besides making it mandatory for district-level administrations to register all workers, upon their return, to avoid a repeat of the current humanitarian crisis that unfolded due to the Covid lockdown.
A three-judge bench of justices Ashok Bhushan, S.K. Kaul and M.R. Shah reserved its order in the suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) on the migrant crisis. The bench said it will pronounce its final order on 9 June, The Print reported.
On 26 May, the court had taken cognisance of the problems faced by migrant labourers “stranded in different parts of the country”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the central government, told the court Friday “approximately one crore migrant workers” have reached their hometowns until 3 June.
The Indian Railways, he submitted, deployed 4,270 trains to ferry them. Over 1,600 trains reached Uttar Pradesh, which as a home state received the maximum number of migrants, Mehta said in an affidavit that enlisted steps the Centre has taken for the return of migrants.
Mehta also refuted charges of negligence by railway authorities, claiming no deaths happened in Shramik trains due to hunger or lack of treatment. Deaths happened due to pre-existing ailments and heart attacks, he said.
The matter was heard for almost three hours and saw submissions made by some states, including Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala and Karnataka. All of them apprised the court of the number of migrants sent back as well as those stranded in the states.
Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also claimed labourers were now unwilling to go back home ever since the ‘Unlock 1.0’ began from 1 June, also known as lockdown phase 5.
“We will order all states to register the migrants who live in states. Governments (of states) should be able to facilitate it if they want to go back. Every village head should know how many migrants have returned. There should be a counsellor centre in every district to facilitate their return, if they want to go back to places where they worked,” Justice Bhushan said.
“We require a total of 171 trains now (to help migrants return). States for administrative reasons want trains on specific dates such as Karnataka wants on 6 June, Kerala wants on 8 June, etc,” he added.
The solicitor general further claimed most of the trains are returning empty. “This may be because migrants are joining industries again,” he said.
The counsel for the Karnataka government echoed a similar view. He informed the bench that despite lakhs of migrants left in the state, only 100 turned up Thursday to board trains. “Finally, only 78 left for their native towns,” the counsel submitted.
Senior advocate P.S. Narasimha, appearing for the UP government, too said the state has received a feedback from the migrants who have not returned that they want to continue working where they are. “Now we have reached equilibrium,” he said, promising the court the state is taking care of all the facilities meant for the migrants.
The counsels for all the states gave an assurance that no migrant was charged for train tickets. Delhi government counsel and Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain told the bench it had deposited Rs 9 crore in advance as train fare.
According to Maharashtra, more than 11 lakh migrants have gone back and only 38,000 remain to be transported, for which only one train was needed.
In Bihar, around 28 lakh workers have returned and got registered, the state counsel said. Skill-mapping of more than 10 lakh has been done and steps are being taken to employ them.
Senior counsels, appearing for NGOs and labour unions, called upon the court to decentralise the registration process for migrants keen to go home. They said migrants can approach police stations for manual registration.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Indira Jaising claimed the registration process is complex and is in English. “The primary issue is demand (of the migrants to go back) is being unreported. The questions being asked in such forms is problematic. For this, announce the train number and name one week in advance. Let registration be from police stations,” Jaising suggested.
She even alleged many migrant workers have been slapped with FIRs for violating lockdown and walking to search for transport to go back home. “Let’s not add insult to injury and humiliate them more. This is a biological disaster and these people are called internally displaced people. These cases must be quashed,” Jaisingh said.