'Send remaining migrant workers home in 15 days'
New Delhi: After taking suo motu cognizance of the plight of migrant workers in light of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Supreme Court of India on Friday heard submissions made by the Centre and states/UTs on the number of migrant workers waiting to return home and observed that a period of 15 days would be optimal to send all the remaining workers back to their native places.
The top court took up the matter for hearing on Friday, days after it had berated the Central government for not being able to answer its questions of facilitation of food, water and other facilities for stranded migrant workers. Despite repeated questions on what is the exact number of migrant workers waiting to return home, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta was unable to answer this on behalf of the Centre and had said, "States would be better able to estimate that."
On Friday, a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah reserved the order in the matter for Tuesday (June 9), saying that they would look into issuing directions that all remaining migrant workers be sent back home within 15 days.
"What we propose to do is that we will give you (Centre) and the states 15 days time to transport all migrant," Justice Bhushan had said during the hearing, adding that it would also issue directions to states as to what relief measures should be undertaken by them for the migrant workers who had returned. "All states will have to bring on record how they will provide employment and other kinds of relief," Justice Bhushan said, noting that these migrant workers should be registered in a database.
Making his submissions on behalf of the Centre, S-G Tushar Mehta informed the court that the Indian Railways had operated 4,228 Shramik Trains till June 3 and had transported nearly one crore migrant workers to their native places through rail and road transportation.
While Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the migrant workers pointed out that registration should be made easier for migrant workers and that physical form filling should be allowed at select publicised locations, Senior Advocate Indira Jaising also stressed on the need for manual ticketing; S-G Mehta reiterated his stand that intervenors should not be heard right now unless they had contributed to COVID-19 management.
Several states such as Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Delhi also made their respective submissions on how many migrant workers were still waiting to return home, following which the SC bench mentioned several times that a 15-day time period would be sufficient to send them back home.
While Bihar told the court that around 28 lakh migrants had returned in this time, UP informed that it had received over 21 lakh migrant workers from other parts of the country and the counsel for Madhya Pradesh said that the state had received around 13 lakh migrant workers.
Given that many migrant workers had reached their native places, Justice Bhushan remarked during the hearing that the court would also look into issuing directions that would ensure healthcare centres for them at district-levels.