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While hearing an application citing the tragic incident at Aurangabad where 16 migrant workers were mowed down by a goods train, the Supreme Court asked how it can "stop migrants from walking."
On May 8, a application was filed before the Supreme Court by Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava in a PIL concerning the crisis faced by migrant workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The PIL had earlier been disposed of.
The application sought directions to the Centre to ask all District Magistrates in the country to identify stranded migrant workers and provide shelter, food to them before ensuring their free transportation to their native places.
This was filed in view of the tragic incident where migrant workers were killed by a goods train. The migrant workers, who were returning to their native place in Madhya Pradesh, had fallen asleep on the railway tracks.
According to railway officials, the workers were walking towards their native place after losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 lockdown. They were left with no choice but to walk across state lines, since public transportation has been cancelled due to the lockdown.
The application has also referred to the earlier statements made by the Centre before the Apex Court that “there was no person walking on the roads in an attempt to reach his/her home towns/villages”, and moreover, that states and union territories will provide adequate facilities for migrant labourers.
During the hearing, Justice L Nageswara Rao observed,
"How can we stop them from walking?"
Justice SK Kaul added that the knowledge of the petitioner in the "case was based on newspaper clippings."
"Your knowledge is based on newspaper clippings. How can you expect us to pass orders? Let the states take action."
"It is impossible for this Court to monitor who is walking," Justice Rao added.
When the Supreme Court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta as to how the migrants could be stopped from walking, Mehta stated,
"The states are providing interstate transport. But if people get angry and start on foot instead of waiting for the transport to be provided, nothing can be done. We can only request that people should not walk. Using force to stop them would be counterproductive."
The application was thereafter dismissed by the Apex Court.