Taking cognisance of the miseries of migrant workers, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said there have been 'inadequacies and certain lapses' by the Centre and the states, and asked them to provide transport, food and shelter immediately free of cost.
Referring to various media reports showing the 'unfortunate and miserable conditions' of migrant labourers walking on foot and cycling long distances after the lockdown, the top court issued notices to the Centre, the states and union territories and sought their replies by May 28.
Although the Centre and the states have taken measures to provide relief to the migrants, the court said there have been 'inadequacies and certain lapses'. Effective concentrated efforts are now required to redeem the situation, it added.
"The adequate transport arrangement, food and shelters are immediately to be provided by the Centre and State Governments free of costs," said the court which took the suo motu (on its own) cognisance of the situation.
The order by the court came amid criticism by activists and lawyers that the judiciary was not doing enough in tackling the migrants crisis after the coronavirus lockdown and in making the executive accountable. The national lockdown was imposed on March 25 leading to job losses and forcing lakhs of migrant workers to head to their faraway native states.
The apex court on May 15 observed that it is impossible for the courts to monitor or stop the movement of migrant workers across the country and it is for the government to take necessary action in this regard.
"We take suo motu cognizance of problems and miseries of migrant labourers who had been stranded in different parts of the country. The newspaper reports and the media reports have been continuously
showing the unfortunate and miserable conditions of migrant labourers walking on-foot and cycles from long distances," said a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M R Shah.
The top court added that "in the present situation of lockdown in the entire country, this section of the society (migrant labourers) needs succour and help by the concerned governments especially steps need to be taken by the Government of India, state governments/Union Territories in this difficult situation to extend helping hand to these migrant labourers".
It said the migrant labourers have also been complaining of not being provided food and water by the administration at places where they were stranded or in the way that is highways from where they proceeded on foot, cycles or other modes of transport.
"This court has also received several letters and representations from different sections of society highlighting the problem of migrant labourers. The crises of migrant labourers are even continuing today with large sections still stranded on roads, highways, railway stations and state borders."
"We are of the view that effective concentrated efforts are required to redeem the situation. We, thus, issue notice to the Union of India and all States/Union Territories to submit their responses looking into the urgency of the matter," it added.
The bench said, "We direct the suo motu petition to be taken up day-after-tomorrow and we request the learned Solicitor General to assist the Court and by the next date of hearing bring in the notice of the Court all measures and steps taken by the Government of India and to be taken in this regard".
It listed the matter for May 28, and directed the apex court registry to serve a copy of the order to the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, as well as the States/Union Territories through their standing counsel today itself so that appropriate responses be brought before the court at the earliest.
The Centre had told the top court that migrant workers across the country were being provided transportation by the government to their destinations but they have to wait for their turn rather than start walking on foot amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The top court had refused to entertain an application seeking a direction to the Centre to ask all District Magistrates to identify stranded migrant workers and provide shelter, food to them before ensuring their free transportation to native places in view of the recent incident near Aurangabad in Maharashtra where 16 workers headed to their homes in Madhya Pradesh were mowed down by a goods train.
Mehta had told the top court that subject to the agreement between the state governments everybody would get a chance to travel to their destinations.
Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, who had filed the plea, referred to recent incidents of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh where migrant workers were killed in accidents on highways.
"How can we stop it?" the bench observed, adding that states should take necessary action on these issues as it was impossible for the courts to monitor who is walking and who is not walking.
Srivastava had filed the plea soon after the Aurangabad incident.
Earlier, the top court had disposed of the PIL seeking migrant workers' welfare during the pandemic and consequential lockdown, saying the Centre and states are taking appropriate steps to provide them relief.