Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, MR Shah
A three judge Bench of the Supreme Court is hearing the suo motu case registered on Tuesday over the migrant crisis that followed the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
A 3 judge bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan begins hearing the suo motu case. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was asked to brief the court about steps taken by centre to avert the migrant crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 Lockdown.
Senior Advocates Indira Jaisingh, Kapil Sibal, Sanjay Parikh and Colin Gonsalves on screen. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for Centre.
Counsel for Medha Patkar, Senior Adv Sanjay Parikh urges court to take up their plea addressing migrant crisis first after SG Tushar Mehta wraps up his submissions on behalf of centre.
With too much echo during hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta holds up a piece of paper written: PLEASE MUTE MICS
SG Mehta: We are immensely grateful to SC for taking cognizance of the issue. Due to this, state and centre has an August forum now to discuss the migrant crisis issue. Some unfortunate things have happened and it is being flashed again and again.
Justice Bhushan: we are not disputing the fact that Centre has not taken steps. But whoever needs help is not getting that help. States are not doing their bit.
SG: Lockdown was announced to prevent spread of COVID-19 and this was the main aim. There was movement of migrants then. Secondly, centre decided then we must shift the arguments. Govt will not stop efforts until one willing migrant labourer is not sent to his village.
SG: Shramik trains were started on May 1. From May 1 to May 27, 3,700 special trains have worked to transported 50 lakh migrant labourers.
SG: Centre and states are working above political and party lines so that mitigation measures are taken. We have shifted 1.85 lacs migrants per day. This proves 137 special shramik trains have been operating
SG: In migrants who wish to travel just in neighboring states then we have used road transport and thus we have transport around 41 lacs of such migrants by road transport 97 lakh migrants have been transported since May 1.
Justice Ashok Bhushan: regarding shramik trains, what about the fare?
SG: I need 10 minutes.
Justice MR Shah: it seems there is no clarity about fare and thus middlemen is taking advantage
SG: Either originating state pays it, or the receiving state. Originating state picks up migrant workers and gets them to railway stations. Then they are screened. We don't allow persons with symptoms to travel. Then meal and water is provided by the railways free of cost
SG: So far Indian Railways have served 80 lacs of meals and over a crore bottles of drinking water. Then after they reach state gocernment screens them again so that rural areas are not affected by COVID-19
SG: Then when they reach those with symptoms are quarantined and rest are trasnported back to the villages.
SG: Now on ticket fare. Initially decision was it cannot be at the central level. There was a need to decentralize it and states will look after it. Some states charged them Initially and some have given free travel.
SG: Then it was decided that railways will recieve fare from either originating state or recieving state but migrants are not made to pay anymore. UP is doing good work where on reaching they get food kits, 1,000 rupees and are quarantined before leaving them to villages.
Justice Bhushan: You( SG Tushar Mehta) have already reached the next stage when they reach states. But there are migrant labourers who are unable to taken rail or road. They are stuck in Maharashtra, and other places.
Justice SK Kaul: What if both the states don't pay? Then how will migrants pay? With food surpluses available with FCI then even during the time when these people are waiting to be transported, is food being supplied to these people or not? Why should there be a food shortage?
Justice MR Shah: Who is giving the migrant workers food? Which state is giving?
Justice Bhushan: Food will be given by whom, originating state of receiving state?
Justice SK Kaul: destination state can't give them food till they get there. It would have to be origin state or the center. Who is supplying food?
SG: There are NGOs, and self help groups who are catering to the workers. Over 92,000 meals have been served to the migrant workers as on May 26. Industry and employers have also fed the workers.
Justice Kaul: How much time will you take to transport all the migrants back to their home.
Justice Shah: It is not that the govt is not doing anything but looking at the number of stranded migrants, some concrete steps need to be taken
SG: We have worked over night to file this report. Will file comprehensive report soon. We can only give details of stranded migrants when the state government provides us the information.
SG: We have shifted over 1 crore migrant workers. But there are also workers who did not shift due to the reopening of activities. Migrants are walking because of anxiety or local level instigation where they are said "walk now, trains won't run. Lockdown extended "
SC: What is the estimation of time that is required to shift the migrants? What are the arrangements being made? What is the mechanism in place? Do the people know if they’ll be shifted on 5th day, 7th day or 10th day?
Justice Ashok Bhushan: There needs to be a time in place which the migrant worker has to wait within which he will be transported and also be provided food and facilities in the interim.
SG: I need to take feedback from the states. I am not shifting responsibility
Justice Bhushan: when a migrant wishes to got to a state, no state can say that we will not take you
SG: No not at all. They are citizens of India. There is no dispute.
SC: But is there an understanding by the receiving state or the originating state that who will pay?
SG: There exists an understanding between all states
SC: In India, the middleman will always be there. But we don’t want middlemen to interfere in this when it comes to payment of fares. There has to be a clear uniform policy on who will pay. If the mechanism is different for all states then it will create confusion
SG: Let the states reply and then you will have an overall view. Don't let stray incidents impact the hearing.
SC: There are some important issues that need to be addressed. The states and the centre all need to understand that these are our concerns.
SG begins addressing court on "some other issue" apart from hearings
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 arm chair intellectuals do not recognize the nation's effort
SG: These prophets of doom don’t even have the patriotism to acknowledge this. State governments and ministers are working over night. None of these people acknowledge that - each and every living being is under threat
SG: All these letters who which have been addressed to the court to persuade SC to take suo motu cognizance of this issue have been written by people who are earning in crores.
SG - There was a photographer who went to Sudan in 1983. There was a vulture and a panic stricken child. Vulture was waiting for the child to die. He photographed it and the photo was published in NYT & photographer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Committed suicide after 4 months
SG: 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.
SG: If a handful of people want to control the situation then it will become an ADM Jabalpur moment. All these people wanting to intervene need to apply the vulture and child story. What have they contributed?
SG: All these intervenors have to file an affidavit whereby they should show their credentials about what have they done? Don't let anyone use this platform to become a political platform. Let the impleadment applicant file affidavit on what their contribution is?
Justice MR Shah: we cannot go off track.
Justice Kaul: People who have been part of the institution, if they believe they can run down the institution it is unfortunate. We have to go by our conscience.
SG: The issue is some High courts are running parallel governments
Senior Advocate P Narasimha appearing for state of UP: I completely agree with Solicitor General. Almost 18 lakh persons have been shifted and 1335 trains have been running. 176 trains have been commissioned and 96 special trains. There are camps too for labourers
Adv Manish Kumar appears for state of Bihar: We have recieved close to 10 lakh people by road. There are quarantine centers at block level, Panchayat level and village level. Migrants from same source area being kept at the same center and reimbursement too there for them
Justice Bhushan: But we are concerned about transportation of those who are stranded. There are several parts of the problem. You are telling about the second part after they reach the state. No one can ask labourer to pay the fare. That's why you need to arrive at a decision soon
Advocate Manish Singhvi appears for Rajasthan: We have transit camps at borders. We have recieved 7.5 lakh persons till now.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal starts addressing the Court.
SG Tushar Mehta: Please do not make it a political platform. Before addressing please speak about your contribution
Sibal: A lot !! A lot !! Don't make it personal
SG: I am only speaking about your client
SC: Whom are you appearing for?
Sibal: (Takes time to find a paper) I am from Delhi Shramik Sangathan and others
SC: Please tell us your suggestion, nothing else
Sibal: its a humanitarian crisis. If you don't want me to assist I won't. I am not here for politics
Sibal: There is a Disaster Management act. Under this a national plan has to be prepared. The national plan is prepared by the National executive committee and approved by NDMA. Under the national plan there is a section 12 - guidelines for minimum standards of relief.
Sibal: All responsibility has been shifted to state governments. that’s why people are walking. It has nothing to do with politics. In one month 91 lakhs have been transported then as per census they will take 3 months to complete the process. So what is the plan??
Sibal to SG Tushar Mehta: In your affidavit you haven't pointed out the national plan or state plan. Railways right now working at 3% capacity. Ask them how many trains had run before and how many are running now.
Sibal: There are people who don’t speak Hindi, there are migrants from other states who are not able to communicate. What food is being provided to them? Pulses is not the answer. Where will they cook all this?
Sibal: When someone comes to register how does he register? There are migrants who don't speak the hindi language or the language of the state they live in. What about food? Giving pulses is not enough. Where will they cook?. Shramik Trains have no concept of social distancing.
SC asks counsel for Maharashtra government: How many migrants are waiting to travel back? You are the most affected, so tell us
Counsel: we are supplying food. We have set up camps and are giving 5 kg rice to these migrants
Supreme Court grants time to all states to file counters.
Senior Advocate Indira Jaising: How can this be ? Everyone has been heard apart from migrant workers
Jaisingh addresses the court: there are surplus trains that can be used for migrants. Only 3% trains are being used as of now.
Jaising: There is a total of 4 crore migrants waiting to get back home. The Solicitor general says we cannot divert trains used for essential commodities, but there are a total of about 4 crore migrants waiting to go home.
SG: You are instigating other migrant labourers to shift who don't want to shift
Jaising: We are giving you statistics based on the press release issued by the Indian railways
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves represents a migrant labour organization.
Colin: When lockdown extends and mass migration begins then there is a real risk. Given the current figures, it will take 6-8 months for all migrants to get back home.
Senior Adv Abhishek Manu Singhvi for Rajeev Sujrewala: A migrant is reaching the station without knowing whether he is going to get in the train. There are district wise lists. SG is saying 100% of the ticket is given by the state. But states have no money.
Supreme Court dictates order: Several states have filed their responses and a report by SG Mehta too has been recieved from the Centre.
SC ORDER: There are several lapses and difficulties which are being noticed in process of registration, transportation, and providing food and shelter to migrant. Even after registration workers wait from weeks to months to board buses or trains. Large numbers can be seen on foot
SC ORDER: some of the states have not filed any response to our notice. We give some reasonable time to states, UTs and centre to bring steps taken by them on record. When migrants reach their places, issues of food employme will also be taken up when reports are recieved
SC ORDER: Certain interim directions to centre, states and UT are needed looking at miseries of migrants
1. No fare either by train or bus will be charged from migrant workers. Railways to share fare but no fare from migrants.
2. All migrants who are stranded shall be provided food by the concerned state at places publicized and notified to them so that they can meet both ends. While they wait for turn to board train or bus, they can survive this way
3. Originating state should provide food and water and therefater food by railways. Thereafter state shall give transport, food and meals from stations to their villages. This is applicable for both camps on the way or buses.
4. States shall speed up registration of migrant workers and build help desks near places where they are stranded where they would be ask to board bus or trains at an early date. Complete information needs to be publicized so that migrants are aware of this
SG: I have instructions we are no dearth of trains. As soon as state government gives a go ahead, we will run the trains. We have a national as well as state plan for the migrant crisis
SC resumes order: 5. Whenever a migrant is found walking on the road they will be taken to the camps at the earliest and help them with facilities.
SG: But this might encourage more people to walk
SC: People are already walking.
Supreme Court to take up this matter next on June 5.