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The Supreme Court today disposed of the petition seeking a direction to allow stranded migrant workers to return to their native places after being tested for COVID-19.
While doing so, the Court observed that all necessary steps are being taken by the Centre and the states in this regard.
The Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and BR Gavai today took up the matter for hearing via video conferencing.
At the outset, the Court said that migrants were being allowed to return to their homes, which is the main concern in the petition. The issues raised, therefore, are being worked on by the government, it was observed.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Jagdeep Chhokar, however, sought to flag the growing concern of who would bear the cost of train tickets for migrant workers in these times.
Noting that the Centre has clarified that it would bear 85% of the cost, Bhushan said that even 15% cost of the ticket is a burden on the migrants, most of whom are left with very little money.
At this point, the Court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta about the travel cost of the migrants. Mehta replied that he would have to take instructions on the same.
Bhushan argued that travel for poor migrants should be free, and in these extraordinary times, unconditional as well. The Court, however, said that as regards the train fare, it is not for the Courts to take a call on the same.
However, the Court observed that all the necessary steps are being taken by the Centre and the states. The additional points and difficulties faced by migrants that were sought to be raised by Bhushan could not be entertained by the Court during the course of the arguments, the Bench said. The plea was thus disposed of.
In the previous hearing, the Court had asked the Centre whether there was any proposal in the pipeline for facilitating the movement of stranded migrant workers back to the places of their residence amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Court had granted the Centre one week's time to respond to the plea with the steps taken or proposals on the issue of allowing inter-state movement of migrants.
In the meantime, the government announced the extension of the nation-wide lockdown from May 4 up until May 17. It also announced a plan to ferry stranded persons, such as migrant workers, students, tourists and such back to their home states. Special trains and buses are being plied to ferry people between states amid this lockdown.
The PIL urged the Supreme Court to direct the Centre to allow migrant workers to return to their hometowns and villages after testing them for COVID-19. It was also sought that the authorities provide for the migrants' safe travel back home should they be tested negative for COVID-19.