The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the government to facilitate the return of all migrants to their native places within 15 days and asked the states to consider withdrawing cases registered by police against them for allegedly violating lockdown guidelines while undertaking long and gruelling journeys back home on their own.
The Centre, states and the Union Territories have been asked to come out with the details of their action plans for rehabilitating the migrants who have returned home, including employment opportunities for them.
Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, under which the police in all states and Union Territories are registering FIRs for violation of the lockdown guidelines, entails a punishment of up to one year in jail, along with a fine.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.R. Shah, which had earlier taken suo motu cognisance of the stranded migrants’ plight across the country, passed the following directions on Tuesday:
- All states and Union Territories shall take all necessary steps regarding identification of stranded migrant workers who are willing to return to their native places and take steps for their return journey by train or bus. This process must be completed within 15 days.
- The railways shall provide Shramik Special trains within a period of 24 hours of requisition by a state to facilitate the return journeys of the migrant workers.
- The central government will have to submit details of all schemes available to the migrant workers who have returned to their native places.
- All states and Union Territories shall also give details of all existing schemes under which the migrant labourers can be given benefits, including employment.
- The states shall establish counselling centres and help desks at the block and district levels to provide all necessary information regarding the government schemes to the migrants who have returned and also help them identify avenues of employment.
- The details of all migrant labourers who have reached their native places shall be maintained along with information on their skills and the nature of jobs they used to do. The list of migrant labourers shall be maintained village-wise, block-wise and district-wise so that the administration can smoothly extend benefits to them.
- The counselling centres shall also provide necessary information to the migrants who want to go back to their workplaces.
- All the states and Union Territories concerned should consider the withdrawal of prosecution/complaints under Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act and other related offences lodged against migrant labourers for allegedly violating lockdown restrictions by returning on foot or on cycles or hitching rides in vehicles.
The Supreme Court listed the matter for further hearing to July 8.
Bengal, in an affidavit, informed the top court that 6,82,558 migrant workers are yet to return to the state from different parts of the country. The Bengal government said it was willing to requisition as many special trains as may be required to facilitate their return.
The state government is bearing the entire cost of the returning migrants, the government told the court.
The state government said that despite the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan, it remained committed to bring back the migrant workers through a systematic process.