The notices issued by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to the Union Home Ministry, the Railway Board and some state governments over the death of some migrant labourers on Shramik Special trains and the treatment they have received on these trains, may be replied to with much solicitude by all of them, detailing the many steps taken to help the workers. The Central government has told the Supreme Court that the migrants are well taken care of and those who criticise the government on their plight are spreading negativity and not showing courtesy to the nation. The court still ordered that the workers should be allowed free travel and given food and water in the trains. The NHRC issued its notices taking suo motu cognisance of the reports of distress though it is not known why the body took over two months’ time to notice the distress.
The most abiding image of the lockdown in the county is the sight of poor and famished men, women and children walking hundreds of kilometres to their villages, carrying their meagre belongings or cycling their way or travelling in overcrowded trucks. Then, responding to public concern and criticism, special trains were introduced to take them home, without preparations, planning or a consideration for the workers’ minimum needs. Journeys took many days, some trains reached wrong destinations and many workers did not get food and water. At least nine of them died, the country saw the heart-rending sight of a child trying to wake up her dead mother on a railway platform, and some committed suicide. The crowded trains violated Covid-19 protocols, raising the chances of the spread of the disease to the villages. The Centre claimed the Railways paid 85% of the fare but told the Supreme Court that the states have to pay the fare. The poor migrants had to pay for their passage, and even after the court’s order, there are reports that they are being asked to pay.
The migrants still want to return because they hope to get the security of home which they lacked in their workplace. The government is duty-bound to provide safe travel to them but it has failed to do so, and has even denied them the basic dignity and respect due to human beings. The Prime Minister has talked about their tremendous suffering, but has not offered a solution. The NHRC noted that the Railways’ treatment of migrant workers was barbaric but expects replies to its notices within a month. Yes, one month.