By contrast, the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a plea to identify migrant labourers undertaking arduous journeys on foot and ensure their return home.

Cant control tears seeing plight of migrant workers Madras HC seeks reportFile image/ PTI
Coronavirus Court Saturday, May 16, 2020 - 16:53

The Madras High Court on Friday sought a report from the Tamil Nadu government as well as the central government regarding action taken to address the plight of migrant workers walking hundreds of kilometres to reach their home states. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown announced to curb its spread spurred a massive migrant crisis in the country. Left in the lurch by the government and their employers, thousands of workers have been walking back to their home states along with their families, including children. 

“One cannot control his/her tears after seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers shown in the media for the past one month. It is nothing but a human tragedy. When the lockdown was announced at the end of March 2020, lakhs and lakhs of migrant workers were stranded throughout the country. Most of the workers lost their jobs, no shelter is said to have been provided apart from lack of supply of adequate food. After waiting for a considerable time, they started migrating to their native states by foot. It is very unfortunate that those persons were neglected by all the authorities,” the court observed. 

A division bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and R Hemalatha made these observations while hearing, through video conference, a habeas corpus petition filed against the Sangli district police in Maharashtra. Advocate AP Suryaprakasam, the petitioner, alleged that over 400 migrant workers from Tamil Nadu were being illegally held in Maharashtra’s Kupwad. 

The court suo motu impleaded the state and central government in the case, stating, “Even though the governments have taken much needed steps to safeguard the migrant workers, though belated, this Court would like to know whether coordinated efforts have been taken by all the state governments in consultation with the central government to address the sufferings of the migrant labourers.”

Citing the tragic train accident in Julna, Maharashtra where 16 workers sleeping on the railway track were crushed to death by a goods train, the court said “nothing happened for the past month” despite multiple media reports.

“It is not only the duty of the native state of the migrant workers but also the duty of the states where they were working to care for their safety and well-being. India is a welfare state and Article 21 of the Constitution of India is paramount and safety and security and supply of food are important,” the Madras High Court stated. 

By contrast, the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a plea to identify migrant labourers undertaking arduous journeys on foot and ensure their return home. “How can we stop them from walking? It is impossible for this court to monitor who is walking and who is not walking?” asked Justice L Nageswara Rao who led the bench comprising Justices SK Kaul and BR Gavai.

Calling for data of persons working as migrant labourers to be collected, the Madras High Court noted that the host state in which they were working should be made accountable for the safety and well-being of the migrant labourers. 

The action taken report to be filed on May 22 — when the next hearing is due— by the state and central governments is to answer: 

1. Whether any data is being maintained by the government of India regarding the details of migrant workers working in each state/union territory in India? 

2. If so, what is the number of migrant workers in each state/union territory in India and the details regarding their nativity? 

3. What is the number of migrant workers stranded in each state/union territory in India as on today? 

4. What is all the assistance provided to those migrant workers by the respective states as well as the Union government? 

5. Whether those migrant workers are allowed to cross the state borders or prevented from crossing the borders; and if they are prevented, whether they are provided with basic amenities such as food, shelter and medical assistance?

6. How many migrant workers died on their way to the native states? 

7. To which states/union territories do the deceased workers belong to? 

8. What are the relief measures/compensation provided to the families of those migrant workers who lost their lives on their way back to their native states? 

9. How many migrant workers in each state/union territory have been evacuated from their working states to their native States through buses/trains throughout India? 

10. What are all the steps taken to transport the remaining people to their native states? 

11. Whether migration of people is one of the reasons for the spread of COVID-19?

12. Whether the central government has instructed the respective states/union territories to provide financial assistance, job opportunities in their native state/union territories for the labourers who migrated from other states?