The Madras High Court on Friday directed the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government to submit an action taken report on the measures taken to alleviate the sufferings of migrants on the move amid the coronavirus lockdown, saying their “pathetic condition” is “nothing but a human tragedy”, Live Law reported.

The court made these observations while hearing a habeas corpus petition seeking the production of around 400 Tamil workers who were reportedly stranded in Sangli district of Maharashtra.

A bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and R Hemalatha observed that the governments of all states should have extended their “human services to those migrant labourers”. “It is a pity to see the migrant labourers walking for days together to reach their native places and in the process, some of them had lost their lives due to accidents,” the court said. “One cannot control their tears after seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers shown in the media for the last month. It is nothing but a human tragedy.”

The court made a special reference to the death of of 16 migrant workers who were run over by a train in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad last week. “Even after the sorrow and sufferings of the migrant workers were reported in the media, nothing happened for the past one month as there was no coordinated effort between the states,” the court added.

The judges asked the Centre if there was any data regarding migrants in each state, pointing out that this would be invaluable in identifying them and helping them to get home. It also demanded data on the number of migrant deaths so far, which states they belonged to and if there was any plan to compensate their families.

Further, it also asked for a complete account of those evacuated on special trains run by the Indian Railways, and enquired if the government had plans to evacuate others who are still stranded. It gave the Centre and state time till May 22 to respond to these questions about its handling of the crisis.

Soon after the Madras High Court’s ruling, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami appealed to migrants to “stay put in camps” and let the government help them. “We are coordinating with other states to send you back by trains,” he said, according to NDTV. “Stay put in camps till then. We are footing train fare and travel costs.”

With businesses shut down in cities across the country, vast numbers of migrants began long journeys on foot, having been rendered homeless and jobless by the countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Some also died on their way while a few others died in accidents. Last month, the Centre arranged for the movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and “other persons” by shramik special trains to be operated by the railways during the lockdown.

On Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition seeking directions to the Centre to provide food and shelter to migrant workers on the move, saying it was “impossible for this court to monitor who is walking and not walking,”. The court refused to entertain the plea after the Centre claimed that arrangements had 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 Mehta told the bench. “If someone doesn’t want to wait for his turn…”