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The Supreme Court today made it clear that as per its previous order, migrant workers stranded amid the COVID-19 pandemic were mandatorily required to be transported to their hometowns within 15 days (In Re: Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers).
The Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah clarified the same while hearing the suo motu case on the COVID-19 migrant crisis.
Senior Advocate Indira Jaising informed the Court that the information being asked from migrants seeking transport was "in excess". She claimed that the Court's previous order was not being followed in letter and spirit.
The Bench also clarified that the exercise of transporting migrant workers to their hometowns has to be undertaken within 15 days. Justice Shah took note of an order passed by the Karnataka High Court yesterday, in which it was stated that the 15-day period set by the Apex Court was not mandatory. In this regard, Justice Shah said,
Justice MR Shah
Solicitor General for India Tushar Mehta submitted that the Centre had asked the states to give a requisition for trains to transport the migrants, after which trains were being provided within 24 hours.
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for NLSIU alumni arranging for transport for migrant workers, informed the Court that the Centre on June 10 released a list of trains for migrants which shall be paid for by the migrant workers.
When SG Mehta said he did not have a copy of this list, Sankaranarayanan said that he had emailed the same. Countering Sankaranarayanan's submission that migrants were being made to pay for the train fare, Mehta asked,
"Who said this?"
"We are working on the ground."
Mehta then said that as requested by Sankaranarayanan, a train was requisitioned to take 1,000 migrants from Mumbai to Uttarakhand. To this, the latter responded,
"I am grateful for that, but migrants do not have access to the SG. Migrants are lying on stations."
The Court ultimately said that these issued would be taken up at the next date of hearing. The matter has been listed next for the second week of July.
On the last date of hearing, the Court ordered that stranded migrants may be transported back to their native villages within 15 days.
On that date, the Bench had ordered that:
Shramik trains as demanded need to be provided within 24 hrs
States need to establish help desks which will help migrant labourers to avail employment opportunities
Counselling centres need to be established to help transported migrant workers to again find a way back to travel and earn if they want to
If cases have been filed against the migrant workers for violating the lockdown under NDMA, then they must be considered to be withdrawn by states.
One of the primary directions of the Court was to rid the migrant workers of the FIRs they were charged with for violating lockdown norms whenever they stepped out to gather means of transport for way back home.
The Bench, while urging that migrant workers across states be identified as soon as possible, also stated that the registration process for these workers needs to be "decentralised."
June 9 order of Supreme Court
On May 26, the Supreme Court, while taking suo motu cognisance of the migrant crisis, said there have been “inadequacies and certain lapses” on the part of the Central and state governments in dealing with the issue.