The Supreme Court directed that no fare for travel either by train or bus be charged from the migrant workers stranded across the country and they be provided food and water.

In SC hearing on migrants issues SG Tushar Mehta calls critics prophets of doom
news Court Thursday, May 28, 2020 - 19:15

High drama was witnessed in the Supreme Court on Thursday as the apex court was hearing the issue of migrant workers stranded across the country. Taking suo-motu cognisance of the migrant crisis in the country, the Supreme Court passed a bunch of directions in an interim order. 

The Supreme Court directed that no fare for travel either by train or bus be charged from the migrant workers stranded across the country and they be provided food and water. The apex court added that all migrant workers who are stranded at various places shall be provided food by concerned states and Union Territories (UTs) at places which shall be publicised and notified to them for the period they are waiting for their turn to board a train or a bus.

The bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said that the originating state shall provide meals and water at the station and during the journey while the Railways would provide the same to the migrant workers. It said that food and water be also provided to them for travel in buses.

The bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and M R Shah, directed that states oversee the registration of migrant workers and ensure that they are made to board the train or bus at the earliest.

The top court said that complete information in this regard should be publicised to all concerned. The court observed that it is presently concerned with the miseries and difficulty faced by the migrant workers who are trying to get to their native places.

It said though there is no doubt that concerned state governments and UTs are taking steps, several lapses have been issued in the process of registration, transportation and providing food water to the migrants.

The Solicitor General’s arguments

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s arguments for the Centre raised some eyebrows on social media on Thursday. Stating that the Centre has taken steps for the welfare of the migrants stranded across the country, and is making proper arrangements for them, the SG lashed out at “media reports” and “people on social media,” accusing them of spreading misinformation. 

"Centre is doing a lot to prevent COVID-19 but there are Prophets of Doom in our country who only spread negativity, negativity, negativity.  These armchair intellectuals do not recognize the nation's effort,” the SG was quoted as saying by LiveLaw.

SG Tushar Mehta drew similarities between them and the photographer who went to Sudan in 1983 who took a picture of a panic-stricken child, next to whom was a vulture was waiting for the child to die. “He photographed it and the photo was published in NYT and the photographer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He committed suicide after 4 months. A journalist had asked him, what happened to the child? He said I don’t know, I had to return home. Then the reporter asked him, how many vultures were there? He said one. The reporter said, no. There were two. One was holding the camera,” the SG recounted in court.

Many had been sharing a particular Facebook post dated May 20 that had spoken of the vulture and the child in a post and noted that the SG's arguments sounded eerily like the post.

The SG added, "Those who come before your Lordships, let them establish their credentials. They earn in crores. Have they spent a penny?  People are feeding people on the streets. Had any of them cared to come out of their AC offices? For these arm chair intellectuals, Lordships are neutral only if they abuse the executive...All these people wanting to intervene need to apply the vulture and child story.”

The Solicitor General also went on to state that some high courts in the country are running a “parallel government.”

There was also a war of words between the SG and Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for two organisations in the hearing. As Kapil Sibal began arguing, Tushar Mehta said the issue should not be politicised, to which Sibal said, it is a humanitarian crisis. The SG then asked Sibal what his contribution to the crisis was, to which Sibal responded with ‘Rs 4 crore.’

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal went on to argue that the Centre has not followed the guidelines as per the Disaster Management Act. He stated that there should have been a national plan prepare by now to ensure a minimum standard to provide shelter, food, drinking water, medical cover and sanitation.

“The responsibility has been shifted to state governments without any minimum standard. Non-implementation of minimum standards and lack of coordination is why people are walking. It has nothing to do with politics. People are walking away from shelters because the shelter homes are not upto standard,” Sibal told the court.

After hearing arguments from other advocates party to the plea, the Supreme Court passed interim directions and adjourned the matter to June 5.

With PTI inputs

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