Madras HC directs Centre to disclose number of dead migrant labourers

One cannot control tears after seeing their pathetic condition, say judges

Updated - May 16, 2020 05:58 pm IST

Published - May 16, 2020 05:57 pm IST - CHENNAI

“One cannot control his/her tears after seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers shown in the media for the past one month. It is nothing but a human tragedy,” the Madras High Court has said and called for a report from the Centre on the number of migrant labourers who had died on their way to the native states during the lockdown to fight COVID-19.

Justices N. Kirubakaran and R. Hemalatha wanted to know whether the Centre maintains any data regarding the number of migrant workers in every State and whether it was aware of the number stranded in each State. The judges wanted to know the nature of assistance provided to such labourers by the Centre as well as State governments and the number of beneficiaries.

The details were called for while passing interim orders on a habeas corpus petition filed by advocate A.P. Suryaprakasam for rescuing about 400 Tamil workers reportedly detained illegally by their employer at Kupwad in Sangli district in Maharashtra. The Division Bench suo motu included the Centre as well as Tamil Nadu government as respondents to the case.

Posing a set of 12 questions, it wanted to know whether migrant workers were allowed to cross State borders and whether they were provided with basic amenities such as food, shelter and medical assistance by the host States if they had been prevented from crossing borders. The court called for details regarding assistance provided to families of dead labourers.

“What are all the steps taken to transport the remaining people to their native States? Whether migration of people is one of the reasons for spread of COVID-19? Whether Central Government has instructed the respective States/Union Territories to provide financial assistance and job assistance in their native States/UTs?” were the other queries posed by the court.

Authoring the order, Justice Kirubakaran said when the lockdown was announced at the end of March this year, several lakh migrant workers across the country had lost their jobs and got stranded. They suffered from lack of food and shelter. After waiting for a considerable time in the hope of a better future, they undertook a journey back home on foot.

“It is very unfortunate that those persons were neglected by all the authorities. The heart-breaking stories are reported in the print as well as visual media that millions of workers are compelled to start walking to their native States with their little children carrying all their belongings on their head and surviving on the food provided by good samaritans on the way.

“No steps were taken by the governments to help those workers. It is also reported that some people starved to death due to hunger,” the Bench said. It added that coordinated action was not taken even after 16 migrants workers travelling from Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh were crushed to death when they were sleeping on a railway track on May 8.

“It is not only the duty of the native State but also the duty of States where migrant labourers work to take care of their safety and well-being. India is a welfare State and Article 21 of the Constitution is paramount. Safety, security and supply of food are important. It is a pity to see migrant labourers walk for days together and in the process lose lives,” the court lamented.

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