Taking suo motu cognizance of the “unfortunate and miserable conditions of migrant workers walking on foot and cycles from long distances,” the Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre and state governments on Tuesday.
A three-judge bench comprising justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M R Shah observed that “although the government of India and the state governments have taken measures, yet there have been inadequacies and certain lapses. We are of the view that effective concentrated efforts are required to redeem the situation.”
The intervention comes 10 days after another bench had declined to entertain a public interest litigation on the ground that the court cannot stop migrant workers from walking on the roads or on railway tracks.
“How can anybody stop this when they sleep on tracks? There are people walking and not stopping. How can we stop it?” the bench had observed when the petitioner referred to the Aurangabad accident in which 16 migrants were killed by a freight train when they were asleep on the track.The three-judge bench, in a U-turn of sorts, stated it was time “to extend a helping hand to these migrant labourers.”
“They have also been complaining of not being provided food and water by the administration at places where they were stranded. In the present situation of lockdown in the entire country, this section needs succour and help,” the court noted on Tuesday.
The top court’s cognizance comes after several high courts — Madras, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Bombay and Gujarat — have taken note of the plight of migrant workers.
The Madras High Court had termed it a human tragedy and said: “One cannot control his/her tears after seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers shown in the media for the past one month.”
The Andhra Pradesh High Court observed: “If at this stage, this court does not react and pass these orders, this court would be falling in its role as a protector and alleviator of suffering. Their pain has to be alleviated at this stage.”
The Gujarat High Court called for a more humane approach. “Everyday hundreds of migrant workers with small children are to be seen in different parts of the state, more particularly on the highways. Their condition is pathetic. As on date, they are living in the most inhumane and horrendous conditions.”
The apex court will hear the matter on May 28 and directed the Solicitor General to share all measures taken by the government.