“One cannot control his/her tears after seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers shown in the media for the past one month,” the Madras High Court said on Friday, and sought a detailed report from the Centre and the state on their numbers and status in the next six days — by May 22.
Host states must be made accountable for the safety and well-being of migrant workers, the court said.
The court was hearing a habeas corpus plea moved by advocate A P Suryaprakasam seeking a direction to the police of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra to locate and produce over 400 Tamil workers alleged to be under illegal detention in Maharashtra.
The division Bench of Justice N Kirubakaran and Justice R Hemalatha said that while governments have taken care of every section of the society to the maximum extent possible, “guest workers and the agricultural work force are the neglected lot and they are the sufferers to the maximum”.
“In this Covid-19 crisis, the persons who fed the entire nation are the agriculturists and not the people in any other occupation, which would go to show that without agriculturists the world cannot survive,” the court said. “Though belated, this court would like to know whether coordinated efforts have been taken by all the state governments in consultation with the central government to address the sufferings of the migrant labourers..”
Referring to reports of migrant workers starving to death, and of 16 workers being crushed to death after they fell asleep on railway tracks in Maharashtra, the court said: “Even after the sorrow of sufferings of the migrant workers were reported in the media, nothing happened for the past one month as there was no coordinated effort between the states.”
States where migrants go to work have a duty to ensure their safety and well-being, the court said. “India is a welfare state and Article 21 of the Constitution of India is paramount and safety and security and supply for food are important,” it said.
“There are a number of toll gates available and those toll gates should have been made as checking points to provide food, shelter and medical help to the migrant labourers. However, it is very pathetic to note that neither the native states nor the states through which they were walking all along took care of them and failed to provide even the basic amenities such as food and shelter and even if they had been provided, they were negligible,” the judges said.
The court said that all relevant data of migrant labourers in all states must be collected, and the host state must be made accountable for their safety and well-being – and that all states were expected to act together to render assistance to these poorer sections of society.
It directed the central and state governments to file a detailed report on whether such data were being maintained and, if so, what the numbers of migrant workers in each state/Union Territory were.
“What is the number of migrant workers stranded in each state, what are all the assistance provided to those migrant workers by the respective states and the Union government, and whether those migrant workers are allowed to cross state borders or prevented from crossing the borders and if they are prevented, whether they are provided with basic amenities such as food, shelter and medical assistance?” the court asked.
It also sought a report on the number of migrant labourers who had died on the way to their home states, and the compensation that was paid to their families.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines