The plight of the migrants travelling on special trains becoming clearer by the day with repeated reports of hunger, exhaustion and deaths, the Supreme Court today took up the issue, and asked some hard questions about what the Centre and states have done to help the people. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing the Centre, faced at least 50 questions from the three-judge bench that involved food, funding, shelter and the entire logistics of transportation.
After detailing a series of numbers -- trains run, migrants transported and meals provided -- the Centre said, "A large number of steps were taken by the government and the Supreme Court was fully satisfied about it earlier".
The top court, which in an earlier hearing had questioned how it could "stop people from sleeping on train tracks", had taken up the issue following questions over its refusal to act on the crisis and strong comments by the high courts of Madras and Andhra Pradesh.
Today, the Centre also told the court not to allow "prophets of doom" to make it a "platform for political speeches... Those want to be heard, let them file affidavits on what their contribution is to migrants" -- a remark that was targetted at the Congress.
The government, while attacking the Congress, also made scathing remarks against a few high courts on this issue and said "Some high courts are running parallel government".
Over the last days, a series of instances were reported of hungry and desperate migrants looting foodcarts at various railway stations. Several migrants have died after being on the trains without food and water in the sizzling heat. Yesterday, a heartbreaking video of a child trying wake his dead mother had gone viral.
The court today said the major problem is the "transportation of migrants and providing them food".
"The first problem is of transport. They are waiting for weeks even after registration. Are these people being asked to shell out any money at any stage? How is the state paying," the judges questioned. "We accept that it's not possible to transport everyone at the same time. But food and shelter must be given till they can get transport," the court said.
Calling the situation "unprecedented", the government said around 91 lakh migrants have been transported to their states since the special train service was started on May 1.
Over the last days, the railways has provided 84 lakh meals to them, said the government, adding that it would not stop its efforts or the train service "till even a single migrant remains".
On Tuesday, the court said there have been inadequacies and lapses on part of both Central and the state governments.
Directing all states and Centre to provide relief immediately to the stranded migrants, the court said they should file their affidavits on the action taken to provide relief to them.
A host of petitions have been filed on the issue so far, which includes pleas from the Congress and activist Medha Patkar, who called for shelter homes for migrants. food, and a uniform ticketing platform.
Over the last few weeks, the migrant trains have become a huge area of political focus, as crowds poured outside train stations in Mumbai but were unable to take a train. The Centre and the Maharashtra government have blamed each other for the situation.
Meanwhile, with the registration and ticketing system being vexed with glitches and paperwork, thousands of migrants have opted to take the road, by illegal transport or by foot.