The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to intervene with steps taken by the Union and state governments to provide relief and transport to stranded migrant workers, while disposing of a plea seeking directions to the central government to ensure free travel for workers who wanted to return home.
The petition, filed by Jagdeep Chhokar and Gaurav Jain, said that migrants were being asked to pay the fare for their journeys, and that they were unable to do so because of the financial burden imposed by the national lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19.
But a bench of justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai, which heard the matter through video conferencing, disposed of the public interest litigation (PIL). “Insofar as charging of 15% of railway ticket amount from workers, it is not for this Court to issue any order regarding the same, it is the concerned state/Railways to take necessary steps under the relevant guidelines,” the bench said.
The principal point raised by Chhokar was that migrant workers be allowed to travel to their home states during the lockdown, and the top court noted that an April 29 order of the Union government allowing the movement of stranded people satisfied this main prayer.
“The substantial relief in the writ petition having been fulfilled we cannot expand the scope of the writ petition to consider other issues sought to be raised by the learned counsel for the petitioners during course of argument”, the court said.
The Union government, through solicitor general Tushar Mehta, told the court that the central government, in consultation with the concerned state governments and Indian Railways, was taking necessary steps for the movement of stranded migrant workers.
A fierce political war broke out over the issue of train fare for the migrant workers returning home on Monday, with the Congress declaring that the party and its state committees would pay the fare to enable workers to return and accusing the Centre of being insensitive to their plight.
The Union government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) responded by saying said that the railways was bearing 85% of the fare cost, and state governments had to pay 15%, thus allowing migrants to go back home free of cost. But the Opposition rebutted the assertion, citing government orders which asked state governments to collect fares from migrants and hand them over to railways.
Several state governments on Monday said that they will pick pay for the tickets, with some even promising that any money collected so far from migrant workers will be returned.
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