“How can we stop them from walking,” one of the judges on the bench remarked as the Supreme Court on Friday declined to entertain an application that sought a direction to the Union government to identify stranded migrant workers, take care of their needs, and provide free transport to them.
The application, filed by lawyer Alakh Alok Srivastava cited the accident in Aurangabad on May 8 when 16 migrant workers walking back home to Madhya Pradesh from Maharashtra were mowed down by a goods train.
The nationwide lockdown enforced by India on March 25 to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease left migrant workers without jobs and a way to get back home. It was only in late April that some states started transporting their workers back from other states using buses and only on May 1 that the government started running special trains for them. Srivastava had earlier filed a petition in March, citing efforts by the workers to walk back home to which the Centre responded in an affidavit on March 31, detailing various steps taken by it to address the issues raised in the petition.
The new application filed by the petitioner referred to comments by solicitor general Tushar Mehta, when filing the earlier affidavit — that “there is no person walking on the roads in an attempt to reach his/her home towns/villages.”
The central government, in response to the earlier petition, had said that there were 26,476 relief and shelter camps across the country housing about one million migrant workers and other people in need.The court disposed of that case on April 27.
On Friday, the bench headed by justice L Nageswara Rao left it to the states concerned to take action to deal with the problem, maintaining that it could not pass orders based on media reports. “ It is impossible for this court to monitor who is walking and who is not walking,” justice Rao said.
The central government told the court that migrant workers were leaving cities on foot, though travel arrangements were made by way of running of special trains. “They are not waiting for their turn and they start walking. They may wait for their turn rather than starting on foot,” solicitor general Mehta, who was representing the central government, told the court.
Mehta also said that using force to stop migrant workers from walking home would be counterproductive.
“Your knowledge is based on newspaper reports. How can you expect us to pass orders? Let the states take action,” the SC bench told the petitioner, dismissing his application.