'How can we stop people from walking?': SC dismisses plea seeking provision of food and water for stranded migrant workers

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a petition seeking the provision of food and water to migrant workers walking back to their native states amid the coronavirus lockdown. The apex court said that 'it is impossible' for courts to monitor or stop the movement of migrant workers

FP Staff May 15, 2020 17:02:51 IST
'How can we stop people from walking?': SC dismisses plea seeking provision of food and water for stranded migrant workers

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a petition seeking the provision of food and water for migrant workers walking back to their native states amid the coronavirus lockdown. The apex court said that "it is impossible" for the courts to monitor or stop the movement of migrant workers.

The bench, headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao and comprising Justices SK Kaul and BR Gavai, said, "How can we stop them from walking? It is impossible for this court to monitor who is walking and who is not walking?"

How can we stop people from walking SC dismisses plea seeking provision of food and water for stranded migrant workers

Representational Image. PTI

The bench added that it was up to the state governments to take necessary action to dissuade migrant workers from walking from state to state.

"Let the state decide. Why should the court hear or decide?" it said.

The plea was filed by advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava after 16 migrants sleeping on railway tracks were run over by a goods train in Maharashtra's Aurangabad area.

The interim application, filed in a disposed PIL, had said that the deceased labourers belonged to Shahdol and Umaria districts of Madhya Pradesh and were walking from Jalna in Maharashtra to Aurangabad railway station to board trains to reach hometowns, PTI reported.

The plea also referred to recent incidents in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh where migrant workers were killed in accidents on highways.

"How can anyone stop this when they sleep on railway tracks?" the bench was quoted as saying by NDTV.

The plea was seeking a direction to the Centre to ask all district magistrates (DMs) to identify stranded migrant workers and provide shelter and food to them before ensuring their free transportation to their native places in view of the Aurangabad incident.

Meanwhile, the Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, told the apex court that migrant workers across the country were being provided transportation by the government to their destinations "but they have to wait for their turn rather than starting to walk".

Mehta added that state governments are providing inter-state transport to the migrant workers but if the people start walking on foot instead of waiting for transportation, then "nothing can be done".

He said authorities can only request these people not to start walking on foot as using any force to stop them would be counter-productive.

Mehta told the bench, which was hearing the matter through video-conferencing, that subject to the agreement between state governments everybody would get a chance to travel to their destinations.

Reports also quoted the court as reprimanding the petitioner for filing a "petition totally based on newspaper clippings".

"Every advocate reads something suddenly and then you want us to decide issues under Article 32 of the Constitution of India based on your knowledge of newspapers? Will you go and implement government directives? We will give you a special pass and you go and check," the court said while dismissing Srivastava's petition.

Situation on-ground

Ever since the nationwide lockdown, as a measure to curb the spread of coronavirus, began on 24 March, reports have documented tens of thousands of migrants, rendered jobless, attempting to return to their villages in other states.

"They walked, took rides on trucks and autos, or even cycled in their desperation to reach the safety of home. Many lost their lives before they could reach, either from hunger and exhaustion or in accidents," NDTV reported.

Meanwhile, as Firstpost report noted, a report published by SWAN (Stranded Workers Action Network) found that "of the 17,000 workers that reached out to them, only 6 percent have been paid their full wages during the lockdown and more than 99 percent of the self-employed — which includes painters, welders and electricians, among others — did not get paid at all".

"Remember that the majority of them work on contract basis and send their earnings home. The lockdown, when announced, hurt them the most because overnight they had no income and they couldn’t return home, either," the report added.

With inputs from agencies

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