On May 15, 2020, an Application seeking direction to all District Magistrates in the Country to identify migrant labourers who are walking to their native places and ensure that they reach their destination free of cost and in a dignified manner was heard by a Bench comprising of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and B R Gavai. In dismissing the matter, the court remarked - “How can we stop them from walking?”
The Bench also held that it was not possible for the Court to monitor the situation and also clarified that it is up to the State Governments to take appropriate steps in this regard.
Background of the petition:
One petitioner named Alakh Alok Srivastava filed an interim application on May 08, 2020, seeking urgent “indulgence” of the Hon’ble Supreme Court towards an incident in Gadhejalgaon village in Aurangabad District (Maharashtra) on 08.05.2020 (Friday) at about 5.30 AM (Morning) in which at least sixteen (16) migrant workers, who were walking on foot from Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh, had been killed by a Train. He cited media reports from the news papers ‘Hindustan Times’ and ‘Times of India’ to inform their lordships about the incident.
He also argued that there are many such incidents like these where the poor migrant labourers, walking on foot to their native villages, have died due to hunger or road accidents. He urged the Court in the interest of justice to direct respondent Union of India to in-turn direct the District Magistrates of each and every district of India to immediately identify such moving/ stranded migrant workers in their respective Districts, immediately shift them to the nearest shelter homes/ camps, provide them sufficient food, water, medicines and counselling etc. and upon proper medical examination, ensure to send them to their respective native villages, with utmost dignity.
Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India, who appeared for the UOI, informed the Bench that,
“The Government has already started helping migrant workers. But they are not waiting for their turn and they start walking. Subject to interstate agreement, everybody will get chance to travel. Using force on them can be counterproductive. They may wait for their turn, rather than starting on foot.”
He also remarked that “the government can only request that people should not walk”.
Interestingly annoyance of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul was visible when he remarked that “every advocate reads something suddenly and wants their lordships to decide issue under Article 32 of the Constitution of India based on advocate’s knowledge of newspapers.”