The top court also directed authorities to consider withdrawing all cases against migrant workers for alleged violation of lockdown norms under the Disaster Management Act.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre and state governments to identify and send back within 15 days the stranded migrant workers willing to return to their native places and advocated for their counselling and help to find avenues of employment lost during COVID-19-induced country-wide lockdown.
The apex court, which was dealing with the plea on “problems and miseries” of migrant workers, also asked authorities to consider “withdrawal” of criminal cases lodged against them for violating social distancing norms.
It also directed the authorities to set up help desk for those workers who wanted to come back to their old places of work.
The apex court, in the 38-page order, said the central government may give details of all schemes which can be availed by migrant workers who have returned to their native places.
“All States and Union Territories shall also give details of all schemes which are current in the state, benefit of which can be taken by the migrant labourers including different schemes for providing employment,” it said.
The top court, which on May 28 had passed a slew of directions including asking the states not to charge fare from the workers and provide them food free of cost till they board trains of buses, on Tuesday took note of the fact that so far, 171 ‘Shramik' trains have been demanded by various states from the Centre and further directed that any additional demand for trains will be fulfilled by Railways within “a period of 24 hours”.
In its order, a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, said “All the States/Union Territories shall take all necessary steps regarding identification of stranded migrant workers in their state which are willing to return to their native places and take steps for their return journey by train/bus which process may be completed within a period of 15 days from today.”
It said for identifying migrant workers, the protocol of registration was already invoked, but the process has to be simplified.
“We are of the view that identification of migrant workers be immediately completed by all the States/Union Territories and those migrant workers, who are not yet registered, immediate steps be taken by decentralising the process of registration by providing facility of registration to the migrant workers at nearby places including police stations and other places of local administration as may be notified.
“The information regarding journey by train and bus, which is to be undertaken by stranded workers should be publicise through local newspapers, local TV channels so that necessary information reaches to concerned migrant workers,” the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and M R Shah said.
Noting the submissions of some states, it said the most of the migrant workers have returned to their native places and the state shall “establish counselling centres, help desk at block and district level to provide all necessary information regarding schemes of the government and to extend helping hand to migrant labourers to identify avenues of employment and benefits which can be availed by them under the different schemes. “
The top court said the native states of such workers should maintain their details including their skills, nature of previous employment and earlier place of work.
“The list of migrant labourers shall be maintained village wise, block wise and district wise to facilitate the administration to extend benefit of different schemes which may be applicable to such migrant workers,” the order said.
The counselling centres shall also provide necessary information by extending helping hand to those migrant workers who have returned to their native places and who want to return to their places of employment, it said.
The top court took note that criminal prosecutions were launched against some of the migrant workers under Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act for alleged violation of norms by moving on roads during the lockdown period enforced under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
At some places in Delhi and Mumbai, migrant workers had panicked and come out on roads and streets in large numbers for going to their natives places.
While acknowledging the “devotion and hard work” of security personnel during the pandemic, the top court, however, said there have been instances of some “excess with regard to migrant labourers” who are already suffering due to loss of work.
“The Financial difficulty being with all the migrant labourers invariably they have to be dealt by the police and other authorities in a humane manner. The concerned Director General of Police/Police
Commissioner may issue necessary directions in this regard,” it said.
The court said after reaching the native place, the “second major task” , needed to be undertaken by the states and Union Territories concerned would be of taking care of their employment.
“We are also of the view that all States and Union Territories should bring on record the different schemes which are enforced in the concerned State which may benefit these migrant labourers so that it may also be examined by this Court for issuing appropriate direction in that regard. We, thus, grant further two weeks' time to all the States and Union Territories to submit additional affidavits in response to various aspects, as noticed in this order,” it said and fixed the plea for hearing on July 8.
Provide residual demand for Shramik trains by June 10: Railways to states
The railways has written to the states asking them to provide a "comprehensive residual" demand for Shramik Special trains to ferry migrants to their homes by June 10, hours after the Supreme Court directed the Centre to complete the process in the next 15 days.
The railways has run more than 4,347 Shramik Special trains to transport approximately 60 lakh persons to their destination states since May 1.
In a letter to the chief secretaries of the states, Chairman Railway Board V K Yadav said as per the order of the Supreme Court on Tuesday that in case of additional demand for Shramik Special trains, the
railways will facilitate the movement of migrant workers within 24 hours of a request from the states
He said 141 such requests have already been placed by the states to the national transporter so far.
"In this context, you may please advise the comprehensive residual demand for Shramik Special Trains for movement of stranded workers from your state/UT along with the number of travellers, originating station, destination station, schedule and dates by which the transportation shall be completed.
"The details may kindly be communicated through an official letter by June 10," he said in the letter issued on Tuesday.
Yadav had earlier written to the state governments on May 29 and June 3 seeking information on the projected demand for Shramik Special trains.
As of now, sources said, the railways has 13 such trains pending -- 10 destined for West Bengal and one each for Bihar, Nagaland and Odisha -- which are all scheduled to leave on Tuesday.
While 10 trains are originating from Kerala, two are originating from Tamil Nadu and one is departing from Karnataka.
"I would like to assure you that Indian Railways will provide the desired number of Special Shramik Trains within 24 hours of the request. Indian Railways will also meet any additional demand that may arise
over and above the projections given, at a short notice," Yadav said in the letter.