'Treatment of migrant labourers borders barbarism'

Indian Railways' treatment of migrant labourers borders barbarism: NHRC

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Thursday(May 28) bluntly told the Indian Railways that its treatment of migrant workers bordered around “barbarism” and one could understand bad weather delaying services but it is “hard to believe” that trains are reaching unexpected destinations and taking more than a week to reach its scheduled station.

Poor labourers cannot be treated in such an "inhuman manner just because they are poor and the government has paid for their tickets" and any "shortcoming on the part of the government agencies cannot be covered under the excuse of the unprecedented situation amid countrywide lockdown", it said.

The NHRC's strong comments came as it sought reports from the Union Home Secretary, Chief Secretaries of Gujarat and Bihar and Railway Board Chairman following reports of seven deaths in Shramik Special Trains due to hunger as well as one train from Gujarat’s Surat taking nine days to reach Bihar’s Siwan.

Taking Suo Motu cognisance of media reports, it said aggrieved families have suffered “irrevocable loss” and the State has "failed" to protect the lives of the poor labourers on board the trains.

"The rail network in India is the largest in the world and well equipped with modern technology, trained staff and other infrastructure. A train getting late due to bad weather etc for some hours is always considered beyond the control of the authorities but trains getting lost during journey, reaching unexpected destinations and taking more than a week to reach its scheduled station is hard to believe and require a thorough investigation into the matter," it said.

Poor labourers have already suffered a lot in distant places and are desperate to reach their homes to meet family, the NHRC said adding it was a "matter of concern for it as they are being subjected to such a treatment by the Railway authorities, which borders around barbarism".

Acknowledging that the COVID-19 situation is "unprecedented", the NHRC said it has left the government agencies, scientists and the public at large "totally clueless".

It also noted that complaints are being received from different parts of the country regarding unnecessary harassment of people by the public authorities and it has emerged from the entire scenario that the people belonging to vulnerable classes have suffered the most.

"Daily wages workers, small shop owners, rickshaw pullers, cab operators and poor labourers have become the worst victims in recent days. As the lockdown was announced, it was stated by the central government that wherever a person is staying he/she should stay there only so that the social distancing could be maintained and the spread of the virus could be contained up to maximum," the NHRC said.

It observed that migrant labourers started "feeling uncomfortable" and started protesting to reach their native places.

"It was mandatory on the part of the host state to take care of them and to provide them basic amenities but the things gradually went out of control and the labourers, in large numbers, started moving on their own by different modes of transport and thousands of them chose to walk on foot. Many labourers lost life during their journey on foot and suffered badly. After reviewing the situation, the central government announced that special trains will start from different parts of the country to take the migrant labourers to their native places," the NHRC said.

On May 1, the government started running special trains but the "sufferings of the poor labourers are not seemingly coming to an end", it said. 

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