Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court seeking permission to intervene in a case pertaining to the plight of migrant labourers, stranded due to the countrywide lockdown enforced to contain the coronavirus, Live Law reported. This came a day after the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the matter and issued a notice to both the central and state governments, for a hearing on May 28.

Advocate Sunil Fernandes, appearing for Surjewala, contended that the Congress leader has done extensive research and studied several ground reports received from party workers. He added that on the basis of the Congress leader’s study on the matter, he has suggested a list of measures to the Centre for tackling the pandemic. In fact, on several occasions, Surjewala also suggested specific measures for alleviating the present plight of the migrant workers stranded all over the country, the petition added.

But Surjewala and the Congress were unable to raise the issue of migrant labourers in Parliament since sessions were temporarily discontinued in March, the plea said. Moreover, the plea pointed to the Centre’s “abject failure” to formulate any joint commission with the Opposition to alleviate the misery of migrants.

The Congress leader wanted to apprise the top court of “certain pertinent measures” to help the labourers, who have been traversing long distances in a desperate bid to get back home.

The Centre must immediately set up reception and facilitation centres at the district and the village-level for receiving labourers in transit and facilitate further travel to their native districts or villages, he said. Surjewala emphasised on the need for a nationwide action plan to enumerate the number of migrants stranded in the country. Formulation of a scheme to provide adequate food, medicine and shelter to the stranded migrant labourers should also be considered, he added.

Lacking basic rights and marooned in unfamiliar places, migrant workers were the first in the workforce to be hit by the country’s economic downturn. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown in March, hundreds of thousands of migrants and their families poured out of cities, as they tried to get back to their native villages, after their jobs evaporated overnight. Many haven’t made it. Some have been crushed by trains, others were run over by trucks. A few have simply collapsed while trudging down highways, or died from exhaustion.

On May 1, the Centre started over 300 “Shramik Special” trains to take the labourers to their hometowns. However, many still continue to walk home, citing unavailability of tickets, unresponsive behaviour by the administration and other problems.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday admitted there have been lapses on the part of the central and state governments in handling the humanitarian crisis. “The newspaper reports and media reports have been continuously showing the unfortunate and miserable conditions of migrant labourers walking on foot and cycles from long distances,” the order said. “They have also been complaining of not being provided food and water by the administration at places where they were stranded or in the way...”

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