Likening the treatment of migrants by the Railways to “barbarism” and accusing the government of having failed to “protect the lives of poor migrants onboard trains”, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notices to the chairman of the Railway Board, Union Home Secretary and chief secretaries of Bihar and Gujarat. It has asked them to submit a report within four weeks on the steps taken to ensure basic facilities to migrants.
The NHRC said it is issuing the notices after taking suo motu cognisance of media reports where trains have taken days to reach destinations and “many migrant labourers lost life during their journey by train due to longer duration and no arrangements for drinking water and food etc.”
The NHRC said, “It is a matter of concern… they are being subjected to such a treatment by the railway authorities, which borders around barbarism. The poor labourers cannot be treated in such an inhuman manner just because they are poor and the government has paid for their tickets. Any shortcoming on the part of the government agencies cannot be covered under excuse of unprecedented situation amid countrywide lockdown.”
The notices were issued on Thursday, the same day the Supreme Court came down heavily on the government over the issue. The apex court had directed that migrants travelling on Shramik Special trains not be charged for tickets and given free food and water.
“The Commission has observed that the contents of the media reports, if true, amount to gross violations of human rights. The aggrieved families have suffered irrevocable loss. The state has failed to protect the lives of the poor labourers on board the trains,” the NHRC said.
It recounted how migrants, including a four-year-old boy, died on trains en route to Muzaffarpur, Danapur, Sasaram, Gaya, Begusarai and Jehanabad in Bihar, and how a train started from Surat in Gujarat for Siwan on May 16 and reached Bihar on May 25.
“A train getting late due to bad weather etc. for some hours is always considered beyond control of the authorities but trains getting lost during the journey, reaching unexpected destinations and taking more than a week to reach its scheduled station is hard to believe and requires a thorough investigation into the matter,” the NHRC said.
It also flagged that the poor and the migrants have been suffering since the very beginning of the lockdown. “Complaints are being received from different parts of the country regarding unnecessary harassment of people by public authorities. It has emerged from the entire scenario that the people belonging to vulnerable classes have suffered the most. Daily wages workers, small shop owners, rickshaw pullers, cab operators and poor labourers have become the worst victims in the recent days,” it said.
It has also mentioned that states were supposed to take care of migrants but for “whatsoever reasons, the migrant labourers started feeling uncomfortable and started protesting to reach their native places” and many died walking on the roads.
It noted, however, that despite the Centre starting trains, the plight of. migrants could not be mitigated.
“The trains have started operating and the ticket charges are being borne by the central and the state governments but the sufferings of the poor labourers are not seemingly coming to an end. There have been several media reports stating that in many cases, the labourers are being called to board the train. They are brought to the railway stations in buses without maintaining social distancing. They are put to wait for hours without any arrangements of drinking water, food, shaded shelter and toilets for them. The female labourers, old aged persons, ill persons, small children and specially-abled persons are reportedly suffering a lot. Many times the poor labourers have been told to go back as the trains got cancelled,” it said.
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