The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the governments of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to provide dry ration, arrange transport and set up community kitchens for stranded migrant workers in the National Capital Region, reported Live Law.

The court was hearing the suo moto case that was taken up last year to deal with the migrants crisis during the 2020 national lockdown. The two-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah passed the order on an intervention plea filed by activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar.

The petitioners had sought directions to ensure that migrant workers were not deprived of ration and food security and were able to travel back to their homes at nominal cost.

The three state governments were also asked to open community kitchens at well-advertised places in NCR for stranded migrant labourers and their family members and provide them two meals a day.

“While providing dry ration, the authorities of the states shall not insist on an identity card for those migrant labourers who do not possess [the same] for the time being,” the court said. “On self-declaration made by the stranded migrant labourers, dry ration be given to them.”

The bench also asked the authorities to arrange adequate transport for the migrants who want to return home. “[The] central government to also consider issuing necessary instructions to Ministry of Railways to take necessary and adequate measures to cater the need of migrant labourers,” it added.

The court asked the Centre as well as the state governments of Delhi, UP, Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Bihar to file a reply, listing the means and measures taken to address the miseries of stranded migrant labourers.

“How will migrants survive with no money or work?” the court had asked Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta during the hearing. “Some sustenance must be provided for the time being. You have to consider the harsh realities.”

Mehta, however, opposed the court’s intervention in the matter. He argued that there was no national shutdown this time and by and large industries were open and construction activities were going on.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the applicants, said that due to the pandemic a huge number of migrant workers were again facing distress as they have lost jobs and have no money to look after themselves. He also alleged that the migrant workers were being charged exorbitantly by private bus operators for travelling to their native places.

On March 25 last year, India began a countrywide lockdown with just four-hours’ notice in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown lasted for nine weeks, and was then either partially or fully extended in different parts of the country.

The world’s largest lockdown turned into a humanitarian crisis for India’s workforce. It was this time last year that lakhs of migrant labourers spilled out of big cities, with thousands of them walking hundreds of kilometres to reach home as work and incomes vanished. Some died on the way due to illness, while others were killed in road accidents. Many died of exhaustion after walking home in the scorching heat.

As coronavirus infections surge again, workers say they they are unwilling to take the chance this time.

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