The Supreme Court today stated that it will direct Delhi NCR authorities to set up community kitchens for migrant workers and to ensure reasonable transport fares for those wanting to return to their homes.
Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah passed the order while hearing a plea by activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar. They had moved the court seeking directions to ensure that migrant workers are not deprived of ration, food security and are able to travel back to their homes at nominal cost.
Representing the activists, Advocate Prashant Bhushan stressed on extending the Atmanirbhar scheme for migrants so that eight crore identified migrant workers can be given rations without needing to produce ration cards. However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Central Government, urged the Court to not pass directions before perusing the replies from states. He said the elected state governments were “more responsible than the petitioners who were not abreast with the ground situation” while drafting the plea “from the comfort of their drawing rooms”.
“Now we are fighting with pandemic, so let us fight with the pandemic and not with fringe elements. Unlike last lockdown, the construction work is going on and industrial work is going on,” Mehta said. “Last time, everything was closed. All state governments are alive to the situation. Except two or three individuals, it cannot be said that all state governments are not irresponsible.”
The Bench clarified that its directions will be specific to Delhi NCR, considering the fact that migrant workers were being charged exorbitantly to travel back to their native places. In regards to food security, Justice Bhushan said, “The migrants who do not have food to eat…if the case is heard after 10 days, then what will happen in the interim? These directions will now be for only Delhi NCR. We are inclined to direct setting up of community kitchens and transportation of willing migrant workers.”
Justice Shah observed that directions passed in last year’s suo motu migrant crisis case were still not adhered to. “We cannot make this plea infructuous. Last year, we issued directions on June 9 and July 31 and registration of the migrant workers had to be completed. We may issue directions to clarify to some state government as to what has been done. It has been a year but nothing was done. We don’t want all states to be here and be a mess. We will confine to only six to seven states like UP, Bihar, Gujarat etc. and call upon them to file the replies.”
The activists highlighted that even though states have been imposing decentralized COVID-19 curfews and lockdowns more cautiously this year, they have offered little welfare support to the working classes and migrants whose livelihoods are at sea once again. “This has triggered a second exodus of migrant workers who are flocking train and bus terminals in urban centres in a bid to get back home,” they said.