SC mulls granting 15 days to Centre, states for transporting migrant workers, reserves order

New Delhi, Jun 5 (PTI) The Supreme Court Friday said it intends to give 15 days to the Centre and state governments for sending to native places all the migrant workers wanting to return home and they should be registered by the authorities for extending benefits of welfare measures including employment opportunities.

The top court, which after taking suo motu note of the plight of such workers had directed on May 28 that they not be charged train or bus fare and be provided food free of cost, reserved its order for June 9 on the issues relating to their transportation, registration and employment.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah took note of the submissions of the Centre and the state governments on steps taken so far to mitigate the miseries of the migrant workers stranded across the country during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Asserting that the Centre has done its “best”, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that till June 3, over 4,200 ‘Shramik Special’ trains have been deployed to transport migrant workers to their native places.

Till now, over one crore stranded migrant workers across the country have been sent to their destinations and most of the trains have ended up in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Mehta said.

The bench, hearing the matter via video conferencing, said it intends to give 15 days to the Centre and all states to transport the migrant workers and to develop a mechanism for their registration and providing them employment opportunities.

Mehta said state governments can inform as to how many more migrant workers need to be shifted and how many trains are required for that purpose.

He assured the bench that trains required are being made available to the concerned states and they would be provided in future as well, when demands are raised.

The law officer said that letters were sent to the chief secretaries asking as to how many workers were to be shifted and how many trains were required for that purpose.

The court said the schemes have to be made for the employment of migrant workers who are returning to their native places and they also need to be counselled.

Mehta and lawyers for states apprised the top court about the steps taken by them to ameliorate the miseries of migrant workers.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), meanwhile, also intervened in the proceedings and suggested some “short and long term measures” for ameliorating the plight of migrant workers. The intervention was not opposed by the Centre.

The court, however, was reluctant to entertain the plea of TMC MP Mahua Moitra on similar issue and said, 'She is a respectable member of Parliament, if we allow this, it will become a chaotic situation. We have assistance of counsel of Union and States, counsel. If you want to say something, say something”.

The law officer said Railways have run 802 trains for transportation of workers from Maharashtra to various places in the country and moreover, if a state puts in a request for trains, then they are being provided within a day.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves opposed the submissions of the Centre and said there was problems in the functioning of the registration system for making the list of workers who wanted to go home as the forms are filled up in English.

“You (Colin) are saying that there is a problem in the manner of working of this system. What is the solution,” the bench asked.

Registration centres for transportation of workers can be made at police stations or at a place where where labourers can go and physically fill the registration forms, the lawyer responded.

The Solicitor General opposed the submissions of some lawyers who were seeking intervention on behalf of parties other than states and said that those who have not contributed in fight against the pandemic should not be heard.

The submissions of the law officer was opposed by lawyers from the other side.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal raised the issue of not putting in place the scheme under the National Disaster Management Act to deal with the pandemic and alleged that the Centre has not responded to the plea so far.

Another senior advocate A M Singhvi said there was the need to collate and publish the data about total no of migrants stranded and the out of them, how many wanted to return.

He also said that their entry to the native place and subsequent employment were other issues needed to be taken care of, he said.

The counsel for states including Gujarat, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, West Bengal and Kerala gave the data with regard to migrant workers.

“Out of 22 lakhs, 2.5 lakhs migrant workers are remaining,” said the counsel for Gujarat. The counsel for Delhi said that now, less than 10,000 such people wanted to go back.

Senior advocate PS Narasimha, appearing for UP, said that over 100 special trains were used for transporting people back to UP from various parts of the country.

Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for Bihar, said that 28 lakh migrant workers have returned to the state and the government has been taking steps for providing employment.

The Kerala government said that out of 4.34 lakh migrant workers, over 1 lakh have been transported so far. And 1,61 wanted to remain in the state leaving 1.2 lakh such persons who are yet to be sent back.

On May 28, the top court had directed that the migrant workers wanting to return to their home states will not be charged train or bus fares and those stranded across the country will be provided food free of cost by the authorities concerned. PTI SJK ABA MNL SA