Moved by the images of hundreds of hungry migrant workers trudging back home, the Madras High Court on Saturday asked the Central and concerned State Governments what basic amenities were provided by way of food and shelter to them after they were left jobless following lockdown imposed to contain Covid19 outbreak
The high court stepped in a day after the Supreme Court threw up its hands in despair, saying courts cannot stop migrants from walking back home
A division bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and R Hemalatha said the images seen on the media showing the plight of these migrants would move anyone to tears.
Passing an interim order on a habeas corpus petition filed by lawyer A P Suryaprakasam seeking that Tamil migrant workers stranded in Sangli district of Maharashtra should be brought home, the court said there was no coordinated efforts between different States and ordered notices to the Centre and the Tamil Nadu Government returnable on May 22.
In the notice, the court posed 12 questions. It asked the Centre if it had data on migrant workers in each State and Union Territory, what was their home State and where they were stranded. What assistance was given to them.
The court also asked if they were asked to cross the State borders. If they were prevented, what amenities were provided to them to make them stay back. What compensation was provided to the families of these migrants who died on the way home.
The court asked how many migrants were evacuated from their places of work to their home States by buses and trains. It asked what steps had been taken to transport the remaining workers.
It also pertinently asked whether the mass movement had led to any increase in the spread of the infection, the most common reason cited by Centre and most States to prevent them from leaving en masse
Lastly, the court asked whether the Centre had asked the States and Union Territories to give jobs and financial assistance to the home-coming migrants.
The court said it was aware that the Centre and some States had given free food grains even without ration cards to these migrants and asked landlords not to collect rent from them.
It said it was the duty not only of the home state of these workers but also the States where they were working to ensure safety and well-being.” India is a welfare state and Art 21 of the Constitution( freedom of movement) is paramount”, the bench said in an apparent reference to States like Karnataka which prevented them from going home.
The court said it was a pity that these workers were forced to walk miles and miles to reach home and no States they passed through gave them any help.
There were any number of toll gates en route and they could have given food and shelter to them. States did not care for them and whatever relief they provided was negligible, the court said in anguish.