Two days later, on 28 May 2020, the Court took the responses of the State and Central Governments. Several States and Union Territories filed their responses. The Union filed its preliminary reply. The Solicitor General (SG), Tushar Mehta took the Court through the various measures the Union and States had taken to ensure that the migrant workers faced no hurdles in relation to food, water, shelter and transport.
Transport: The SG submitted that no migrant worker was being charged for their journey back to their home states. He said that this was true of both rail and bus travel. In the case of rail travel, either the origin or destination state was bearing the costs, depending on the arrangement between the states in question. If at all the worker was charged, the costs were being reimbursed, submitted the SG.
Food and water: In the case of travel by road, the originating state was providing food and water, submitted the SG. In the case of rail travel, railways were providing the meals. Further, the destination states were taking steps to drop the workers to their homes.
Moreover, for those who were staying put in different parts of the country, the ration was being provided even if they did not have a ration card, noted the SG.
Shelter: Relief camps have been set up to provide food, water and stay for the workers.
Till date, the SG submitted that 50 lakh migrant workers had been transported by train and 41 lakhs by road.
Other than the SG, counsels for the States of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar also made submissions. Counsel for UP, Mr. Narsimha argued that the State had taken several measures to support workers. In particular, he pointed out that the State was giving Rs. 1000 along with a kit containing food and necessary items to all migrant workers when they go home after completion of quarantine.
Counsels appearing for various parties seeking to implead in the matter also made submissions. Sr.Adv. Kapil Sibal pointed out that minimum standards of relief in line with the Section 12 of National Disaster Management Act, 2005 had not been provided. He also submitted that no national/state plan as envisaged under the Act had been devised.
Sr. Adv Colin Gonsalves pointed out that the registration process for travel was cumbersome and inaccessible to the workers. Sr. Adv. Indira Jaising submitted that there were more than 4 crore migrant workers and more trains had to be arranged to transport them.
In his rejoinder, SG submitted that not all migrant workers were keen on returning home, with some of them willing to work at different places for their livelihood.
Upon hearing the counsels, the Court observed that while a number of measures were being taken to help the workers, they were not sufficient. It then directed the Union and State Governments to submit within a week the detailed report of the measures being taken to help the workers. In the interim, it made the following directions:
The migrant labourers must not be charged with train or bus fares for travel. The States Governments must share the costs.
The States and Union Territories Governments to provide free food and water to the migrant labourers.
The State where travel originates must provide food and water during the travel.
The State must ease the procedure for registration and establish a help desk for registration.
Post-registration, the migrant labourers must be provided travel at the earliest.
The migrant labourers who are walking their way back home must be provided travel and food.
Once the migrant labourers reach their home states, they must be given free health screening and other facilities.