The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the worst Covid-19 affected state of Maharashtra to be more vigilant and make concerted efforts in identifying and sending the migrant workers still stranded there to their native places.
The top court, which directed all states and Union territories to transport all stranded workers by train, bus or other modes within 15 days, said there were “huge lapses” by the Maharashtra authorities in dealing with the issue and asked the government there to announce a suitable place for their registration.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M R Shah noted the state government’s submission that it has 37,000 migrant workers waiting to return to their native places and that it has requested only one train from the railways for sending them back.
“We are of the view that the state has to make a more vigilant and concentrated effort in identifying the migrant workers, who are still stranded in the state of Maharashtra and who are willing to return to their native places,” it said.
It added that the government should publicise and announce the places like police stations or any other suitable place for identifying/registering the workers who have not yet been provided any train or bus journey.
The bench said the state supervisory committee, district supervisory committee and its officials should ensure that all migrant labourers, who are willing to go to their native place, should be identified, provide them food and shelter and no complaint is received of not providing facility of journey or food by the stranded migrant labourers.
The top court said that although in the affidavit the state claims that it is providing food and shelter to migrant workers and a list of entire workers is prepared, such claim has been refuted in different affidavits and materials brought on the record by different parties including intervenors and various individuals.
“It is submitted that there is no proper arrangement of food to the migrant labourers nor there is any simple manner of registration of the workers. There are huge lapses on the part of the state authorities in implementing state policies and decisions and most of the claims are only on paper causing great miseries and hardship to the migrant workers,” the bench said.
The Maharashtra government has told the top court that over 12 lakh migrant labourers have been sent to their native places and out of them more than five lakhs passengers have been ferried free of cost by buses of the state road transport corporation.
On a query by the court, it has submitted that 37,000 migrant workers are still waiting to return to their native places and that the state government has requested for only one train to the railways.
On Monday, Mumbai, the country’s financial capital and the worst hit city by the dreaded virus outbreak, alone saw its tally of confirmed cases crossing 50,000 and its death count reached 1,702.
As per the figures till Monday evening Maharashtra’s overall tally of confirmed cases rose by more than 2,500 to reach 88,528 and its death toll mounted to 3,169.
In its 30-page order, pronounced through video conferencing in the case it took up suo motu (on its own) on the plight of migrant workers during the Covid-19 lockdown, the top court noted the steps taken by various states including Gujarat and Delhi, which are worst hit by the virus.
The top court granted two weeks’ time to all the states and UTs to submit additional affidavits in response to various aspects and asked the Centre to also bring on record the different schemes which can be taken by migrant labourer.
It noted the submission of the Delhi government that about three lakhs migrant workers have been sent to their native places by 236 trains and about 12,000 have been sent by buses.
It has said that about 6.5 lakh persons have already registered themselves at the web portal of the government of NCT of Delhi and about two lakh migrants have chosen to not to go to their native places, presumably that after opening of industries they would re-engage themselves with the work.
Another worst affected state, Gujarat has told the top court that out of 23 lakh migrant workers working in the state more than 14 lakh have been sent to their native places by 999 Shramik trains and more than 5.75 lakh have been sent to their native states by buses.
The Uttar Pradesh government informed the court that around 25 lakh migrant workers have safely returned to their native places and government is providing them free of cost last mile connectivity to their villages.
Bihar had told the top court that 28 lakh migrant workers have reached the state and the government is in the process of setting up counselling centres, which would examine the skill level of the labourers and suggest the options of employment available in the state.
Similar submissions made by Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, West Bengal, Kerala and other states and Union territories on sending and receiving of migrant workers and welfare initiatives taken by the state government to rehabilitate them were noted by the top court in its order.
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.