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Millions of stranded workers, facing an acute shortage of food and cash, have desperately tried to return home.

Five weeks after the lockdown was imposed, the government finally introduced measures to enable stranded migrants to return home — a process which is ongoing, but which has not stopped thousands of others from continuing to walk back home.

Court’s response on petitions to take action for Migrants

On 15th May 2020, dismissing a petition which asked that the Centre be directed to identify and provide food and shelter to migrant workers returning home, the Supreme Court said it was a matter for the states to decide.

The Court, it added, could not monitor who was walking or not walking, neither could it stop them.

High Courts on Plight of Migrants

In the backdrop of workers having to wait for as long as 19 hours to board trains, the Gujarat High Court (HC) observed that there was lack of coordination among departments and asked the government to be more sensitive to the plight of the most “downtrodden, underprivileged and weaker sections of society”, and instil confidence in them

The Karnataka HC has also done well in observing that workers can’t be deprived of the opportunity of travelling home because of their inability to pay fares. India’s poorest need help.

What could the Supreme Court have done?

It could have done more to order relief and protective measures; and it could have ensured strict monitoring of the process of identification of migrant workers, provision of food and shelter, and their transport.

The government has to do its bit. But the courts can help, with more sensitivity and direction.

-Source: Hindustan Times

February 2024