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SC cites lapses & inadequacies; issues notice to Centre, states/UTs

New Delhi: After months of the continuous ordeal faced by the country's migrant workers in light of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Supreme Court of India on Tuesday pulled up the Central government and the states for inadequacies and lapses in handling the unprecedented crisis being witnessed in the country as a fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic.

A three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah took suo motu cognizance of the "problems and miseries" faced by stranded migrant workers across the nation and issued notices to the Centre and all states and Union Territories, also directing that adequate arrangement of transport, food and shelter be immediately provided to migrant workers wherever they might be stranded currently.

The court observed that while Centre and States had taken some measures to deal with the crisis, "there have been inadequacies and certain lapses." The court then went on to opine that for the situation to be redeemed, "effective concentrated efforts are required" and posted the matter next for May 28, when the Solicitor-General is expected to present the list of steps taken by the Union government and the steps needed to be taken further with respect to this crisis.

It may be recalled that in earlier cases, the SC had once remarked it cannot monitor or stop the movements of migrant workers on the roads and S-G Tushar Mehta had assured the court that there was not a single migrant worker on the road as of March 31.

However, on Tuesday, the top court remarked, "The crisis of the migrant labourers is even continuing today with large sections still stranded on roads, highways, railway stations and State borders." The court also acknowledged that many of these stranded migrant workers had not been provided with shelter or food by the concerned governments.

Significantly, the Andhra Pradesh High Court had last week taken up a petition for hearing and issued a set of guidelines to ensure stranded migrant workers are sheltered and fed. The order set a framework that included setting up of tents and camps wherever they might be stranded and ensuring that they are registered to travel to their choice of location within 8 hours.

While over the last few weeks the government has started the operation of Shramik Special Trains to assist the movement of migrant workers stranded in cities, there have been a host of problems in the management of the system meant to help these stranded workers.

For instance, the registration process for these trains is convoluted and at times inaccessible to the very workers they are meant for. Many have complained of not owning smartphone devices or internet devices to register for the trains. Further, workers have complained of unreasonably long waiting times.

Workers stranded in Delhi have been turned away from Screening Centres after being told that trains for the day had been filled up and many workers with proper registrations are unable to board these trains. In addition to this, state borders have not seen restrictions being eased to facilitate the movement of migrant workers.

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