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Impossible to stop migrant workers walking back home: SC

Dozens of migrant workers have fallen sick or died on their way home, either from fatigue or in accidents, while trying to reach their rural homes. (Photo: Internet)

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday said it was impossible for anyone to stop migrant workers from walking back to their homes and refused to direct the government to give them shelter or free transportation.

“How do you stop people who want to keep walking? Can anyone go and stop them? Impossible for anyone to stop them,” a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Sanjay Kaul said.

The court refused to entertain the plea after the Centre informed that arrangements have been made for the migrants to return home, “but some don’t want to wait and start walking on foot.”

“Migrants must have patience to wait for their turn,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehra told the bench.

The petitioner, lawyer Alakh Alok Srivastava, also highlighted the issue of 16 migrant workers getting killed after being run over by a train in Aurangabad last week, to which the court responded: “How can anyone stop this when they sleep on railway tracks?”

The workers crushed to death by a freight train last Friday had been walking along the rail tracks for around 45km and slept there due to exhaustion, officials had said.

The court berated the advocate, saying his petition was “totally based” on newspaper clippings. “Every advocate read incidents in the paper and become knowledgeable about every subject. Your knowledge is totally based on newspaper clippings and then you want this court to decide. Let the state decide. Why should this court decide or hear? We will give you special pass. Can you go and implement government orders?” the court said, dismissing the petition.

The petitioner had wanted the court to pass directions to all district magistrate to identify those stranded and ensure shelter, food and free transport for them.

Dozens of migrant workers have fallen sick or died on their way home, either from fatigue or in accidents, underscoring the extreme risks the poor have been exposed to under measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Migrant labourers have been walking back to their rural homes since the lockdown was announced in March as their income dried up overnight. The Centre, criticised for ignoring their plight, started running special Shramik trains earlier this month to ferry them home. The Railways says over a million have been sent back so far.

But activists, which helps such migrant labourers, said many were still trying to get home on foot because registering for the transport was too difficult.