SC order on migrant crisis: Transport stranded migrants back to their home towns within 15 days

The SC has directed the centre and state governments to identify and transport stranded migrant workers back to their home towns within 15 days.

Created On: Jun 9, 2020 18:41 IST
SC ruling
SC ruling

The Supreme Court on June 9, 2020 directed the centre and state governments to identify and transport stranded migrant workers back to their home towns within 15 days. The court also directed the Indian Railways to provide the required Shramik trains within 24 hours. The top court issued the directions while hearing the matter concerning the migrant crisis caused due to the nationwide lockdown imposed to contain COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Supreme Court bench comprised Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MR Shah. The three-judge bench also directed all the concerned states and UTs to consider withdrawal of complaints lodged against the migrant labourers for violating lockdown measures under Section 51 of Disaster Management Act, 2005. 

The top court also issued directions for identifying all migrant workers across states as soon as possible and decentralising the registration process for these workers by providing registration facilities at nearby places including police stations and other places of local administration.

Supreme Court gave the following directions to centre/ state authorities:

•  Transport all stranded migrants back home within 15 days.

•  The required number of shramik trains to be provided within 24 hrs.

•  States shall need to establish help desks that will enable migrant labourers to avail employment opportunities.

•  Counselling centres to be set up to help transported migrant workers to again find a way back to travel and earn if they want to.

•  Consider withdrawal of cases filed against the migrant workers for violating the lockdown under NDMA.

Besides this, the SC bench has directed all the states to take steps to ensure that the skill of the labourers is recorded to ensure future employment options. The court has further asked all states/ UTs to submit detailed affidavits on the schemes and job creation initiatives introduced by them for the integration of the migrant workers into their economies. The top court has granted all states/ UTs two weeks' time to file their affidavits.

The Supreme Court has now listed the matter for hearing on July 8, 2020.

Supreme Court's May 28 ruling on Migrant Crisis

The Supreme Court ruled on May 28, 2020 that no train or bus fare will be charged from the migrant workers and all those stranded shall be provided food by the concerned states. The ruling was delivered by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice Ashok Bhushan. The bench also comprised Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Shah. 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on behalf of the centre responded to the court's question on steps taken by the centre to avert the migrant crisis in the wake of the national lockdown to contain COVID-19 pandemic. Tushar Mehta claimed that the centre and states have been working above party lines to take all necessary measures to help the stranded migrants. He reported that around 97 lakh migrant workers have been transported back to their home states since May 1 using road transport and the special shramik trains.

Regarding the train fare, Tushar Mehta said that  either the originating state pays the fare or the receiving state. He claimed that the originating state picks up migrant workers and transports them to railway stations, where they are screened before being allowed to board the trains. He also stated that all migrants are provided meal and water during the journey by the railways free of cost.

He stated that so far, the Indian Railways has served 80 lakh meals and over 1 crore drinking water bottles. Further, Mehta noted that the migrants are screened again once they deboard to ensure they are not carrying any symptoms of coronavirus. Those with symptoms are quarantined and rest are transported back to their villages. Mehta, however, admitted that initially some states had charged transport fare from the migrants and some had given free travel. Then later it was decided that railways will receive the fare from either originating state or receiving state but migrants are not made to pay anymore.

After going through responses filed by several states and the report filed by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on behalf of the centre on the migrant crisis, the three-judge Supreme Court bench ruled that several lapses and difficulties were noticed in the process of registration, transportation and providing food and shelter to the migrants. The court noted that even after registration, the migrant workers had to wait for weeks or months to board buses or trains.

The Supreme Court gave the following order as its interim directions to the centre, states/ UTs:

1. No bus or train fare will be charged from the migrant workers.The Indian Railways will share the fare but no fare will be taken from the migrants.

2. All stranded migrants shall be provided food by the concerned states at places publicized and notified to them so that they can meet both ends. The court noted that they can survive this way while they wait for their turn to board trains or buses.

3. The originating state should provide food and water to the migrants and thereafter the food will be provided by the railways. The receiving state shall give transport, food and meals to the migrants from the receiving stations to their native villages. This will be applicable for both camps on the way or buses.

4. The states shall speeden up the registration process of the migrant workers and build help desks near the places where they are stranded where they would be ask to board buses/ trains at an early date. The complete information regarding the same needs to be publicized so that migrants are aware of this.

5. Whenever a migrant is found walking on the road they will be taken to the camps at the earliest and provided help with all required facilities. 


The Supreme Court had earlier given the centre and the states/ UTs some time to file their responses on a number of questions regarding the transportation of migrant workers by Shramik train and other modes of transport. While many states and union territories filed their responses, some states are yet to file a response on the court's notice. The court stated that it has given reasonable time to the states/ UTs and the centre to bring steps taken by them on record. 

The court had also asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta during the last hearing to apprise the court about the steps taken by the centre to deal with the migrant crisis. The Supreme Court bench had earlier decided to take up the issue suo motu. The bench will now take up the matter for hearing on June 4, 2020.

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