Migrant Workers Must Be Sent Back Home Within 15 Days: Supreme Court
Migrant workers and their families carry their luggage while walking in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

Migrant Workers Must Be Sent Back Home Within 15 Days: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has directed all state and union territory governments to identify, register and transport all migrant workers who wish to return to their homes within 15 days.

The central government must provide Shramik trains within 24 hours of such request being made by states, the top court ruled. The bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan also ordered withdrawal of all cases registered against migrant workers for violation of lockdown in their attempt to go back to their homes.

Once the workers are back home, the state governments must ensure they’re informed about all available schemes to avail work opportunities, and a skill mapping exercise for all the workers is carried out, the top court said in its order.

The top court has ordered the central government to file a response giving details of various schemes available for migrant workers who are seeking employment.

The state governments must set up counselling centres which will provide migrant workers with information on government schemes and guide the workers to identify employment opportunities, the order said. These centres will also have to help those who wish to return to their place of employment.

India imposed a nationwide lockdown, effective March 25, as it aimed to contain spreading of the new coronavirus pandemic. Migrant workers were among the worst affected as jobs and income dried up overnight, leaving them stranded in the cities where they worked, while many started walking back to their native places. The total cases of infections have so far risen to 266,598, including 7,466 deaths.

The Supreme Court last month had directed that no fare for travel should be charged from migrant workers stranded across the country. That came after its earlier decision to not interfere with the government’s handling of the issue evoked criticism.

The top court had issued notice to the central and state governments, asking them to inform about the steps taken to address the crisis. The court also asked Solicitor General to assist in the case.

The Supreme Court, in its May 26 order, said while the governments had taken steps to address the issue, there have been inadequacies and lapses. “We are of the view that effective concentrated efforts are required to redeem the situation,” the court had said.

The Indian Railways has been running Shramik trains for transporting migrant workers. In today’s order the top court has asked for the registration process for travelling to be simplified as well publicised through local newspapers and television channels so that the information reaches the workers.

“Immediate steps be taken by decentralising the process of registration by providing facility of registration to the migrant workers at nearby places, including police stations and other places,’’ the order said.

“High Courts being constitutional Courts are well within their jurisdiction to take cognizance of violation of fundamental rights of migrant workers and we have no doubt that those proceedings shall proceed after considering all aspects including the response of concerned authorities,” the top court said.

During the course of the hearing in the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had said that “certain high courts are running parallel governments in the country”.

The court will now take up the case for hearing on July 8, when it will take stock of the progress made as per its order.

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