"Can't Stop People From Walking:" Supreme Court To Plea On Migrants

Coronavirus: The central government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, told the Supreme Court that the government had already started providing transport to take migrants home

Coronavirus: Thousands of migrants have been walking home from cities across India (AFP)

New Delhi:

Dismissing a petition that asked that the centre be ordered to provide food and water to migrants on the move, the Supreme Court said today: "It is impossible for this court to monitor who is walking and not walking."

The Supreme Court also said sternly: "Let the state decide. Why should the court hear or decide?"

The petition filed by lawyer Alakh Alok Srivastava urged that the court ask the centre to identify migrants walking on the roads and provide them food and shelter.

The lawyer had also referred to a recent incident in Maharastra, where 16 migrants sleeping on railway tracks were run over by a cargo train.

It is for the states to decide, said the Supreme Court. "There are people walking and not stopping. How can we stop it?" the judges said.

On the train accident, the court said: "How can anyone stop this when they sleep on railway tracks?"

The court berated the advocate, saying his petition was "totally based" on newspaper clippings.

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A child sleeps on a suitcase as his mother pulls it on a highway in Agra in Uttar Pradesh

"Every advocate read incidents in the paper and become knowledgeable about every subject. Your knowledge is totally based on newspaper clippings and then you want this court to decide. Let the state decide. Why should this court decide or hear? We will give you special pass. Can you go and implement government orders?" the court said, dismissing the petition.

The central government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, told the Supreme Court that the government had already started providing transport to take migrants home.

"If someone doesn't want to wait for his turn…" Mr Mehta said, referring to those still walking on the highway.

"Subject to the agreement between states, everybody will get a chance to travel. Using force on them can be counter-productive," said the government's top lawyer.

Tens of thousands of migrants, left without jobs and shelter because of the nationwide shutdown, started out for their villages thousands of km away. They walked, took rides on trucks and autos, or even cycled in their desperation to reach the safety of home. Many lost their lives before they could reach, either from hunger and exhaustion or in accidents.

The Home Ministry recently put out guidelines saying that every state must ensure migrants do not walk on roads or rail tracks. "States must counsel, provide food and shelter and assure them that they would be able to travel on special trains," the ministry said.