Poor labourers cannot be treated inhumanely just because they are poor: NHRC notice to Gujarat, Bihar, Indian Railways over migrant crisis
News

Poor labourers cannot be treated inhumanely just because they are poor: NHRC notice to Gujarat, Bihar, Indian Railways over migrant crisis

"Any shortcoming on the part of the government agencies cannot be covered under the excuse of an unprecedented situation amid countrywide lockdown", states the NHRC notice issued on Thursday.

Aishwarya Iyer

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports regarding the hardships faced by migrant labourers during their train journeys back home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

Taking serious note of a Dainik Bhaskar report over deaths of migrant labourers during a train journey between Gujarat and Bihar, the NHRC has issued notice to the Governments of Gujarat and Bihar. Further, notice has also been issued to the Union Ministry of Railways and the Union Home Affairs Ministry.

The notice issued on Thursday by the NHRC states,

"The poor labourers cannot be treated in such a inhuman manner just because they are poor and the government has paid for their tickets. Any shortcoming on the part of the government agencies cannot be covered under excuse of unprecedented situation amid countrywide lockdown. The labourers, if the contents of the news reports are true, are not being treated with dignity."
NHRC Notice

The NHRC has now called for a detailed report in the matter within a period of 4 weeks. The Chief Secretaries of the Government of Gujarat and Bihar are expected to specifically inform as to what steps were taken to ensure basic facilities including medical facilities for the migrant labourers who boarded the trains.

Responding to complaints received from different parts of the country regarding unnecessary harassment, the Commission has noted,

"It has emerged from the entire scenario that the people belonging to vulnerable classes have suffered the most. Daily wages workers, small shop owners, rickshaw pullers, cab operators and poor labourers have become the worst victims in the recent days."

NHRC

Pertinently, the Commission took note of a report that two persons died in Muzaffarpur and one each in Danapur, Sasaram, Gaya, Begusarai and Jehanabad in Bihar, including a 4-year-old boy, due to hunger.

The NHRC also pointed towards another report that the train which started from Surat district in Gujarat for Siwan in Bihar on May 16 had reached Bihar on May 25 after 9 days.

"A train getting late due to bad weather etc. for some hours is always considered beyond control of the authorities but trains getting lost during journey, reaching unexpected destinations and taking more than a week to reach its scheduled station is hard to believe in normal circumstances and require a thorough investigation into the matter," states the NHRC notice.

Terming such treatment by the Railway authorities to be barbaric, it was added,

"Any shortcoming on the part of the government agencies cannot be covered under excuse of unprecedented situation amid countrywide lockdown.
NHRC Notice

The NHRC also highlights in its notice that it is mandatory on the part of the host state to take care of the migrant workers and provide for them. It is added that in the absence of such measures, a large number of people have started moving on their own by different modes of transport and thousands of them chose to walk.

Even after trains were made to operate, their sufferings have not ended, it is noted.

"They are brought to the railway stations in buses without maintaining social distancing. They are put to wait for hours without any arrangements of drinking water, food, shaded shelter and toilets for them. The female labourers, old aged persons, ill persons, small children and specially abled persons are reportedly suffering a lot. Many times the poor labourers have been told to go back as the trains got cancelled."
NHRC Notice

Observing that the contents of the media reports, if true, amounts to gross violations of human rights, the Commission added that the aggrieved families have suffered irrevocable loss whilst the State has failed to protect the lives of the poor labourers on board the trains.

This development comes close in the heels of the Supreme Court having taken up the migrant crisis issue suo motu earlier this week.

Following the hearing yesterday, the top Court issued a five point order, making it clear, inter alia, that migrants seeking to return to their home states cannot be charged train and bus fares.

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news
www.barandbench.com