During a hearing conducted by the Supreme Court on Friday, 15 May, regarding the deaths of 16 migrants on a railway track in Aurangabad, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta told the judges that the authorities could not do anything about the migrant workers walking home as they were not waiting for the trains which have been arranged to take them home.
“The states are providing interstate transport. But if people get angry and start on foot instead of waiting for the transport to be provided, nothing can be done,” he said, according to Bar and Bench.
The Quint has confirmed from the petitioner in the case, Alakh Alok Srivastava, that this was what was said during the hearing, which was conducted by video conferencing as per the current system, and not fully open to the public.
Mehta, who was representing the Centre, went on to say that the government could only request that people should not walk, as using force to stop them from doing so would be counter-productive. Justice L Nageshwara Rao, one of the judges on the bench, also said it would not be possible to stop the migrants from walking, and that it was impossible for the apex court to monitor who was walking on the roads at this time.
Thousands of migrant workers have been walking home ever since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown was imposed, and public transport services suspended. While special ‘Shramik Trains’ were finally organised to get migrants home after six weeks of the lockdown, these trains remain controversial, with migrants being charged for tickets even after the Centre said the central and state governments would cover the fare.
Live Law reported that Mehta also said that the migrants “are not waiting for their turn”, and instead are walking back home. “Everybody will get to their destination. They may wait for their turn, rather than starting on foot,” he is reported to have said.
The Supreme Court dismissed the petition as it was not inclined to entertain the matter.
(With inputs from Bar and Bench and Live Law.)