Don’t charge migrants for any rail or bus fare, says SC; puts onus on states

The apex court, in the suo moto petition, has issued interim directions putting onus on states to take responsibility of transport, fare, meals and registration of migrants

Migrants ChargesImage

The intense and heated courtroom exchange on May 28 in the suo moto petition regarding the migrant crisis culminated into an interim order, effectively giving directions to all the states on the handling of the crisis.

Since this was a suo moto petition, there were intervenors in the case represented by Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal, Colin Gonsalves and Indira Jaising and the Centre was represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

The concern was regarding the arrangement of transport for stranded migrants, arrangement of meals and water for them through the journey and for taking care of stranded migrants awaiting transportation.

About the payment of fare for transport, SG submitted that “the fare is borne either by the originating State or the receiving State as per their internal arrangement.  In any event, the migrant workers are not asked to bear the fare of the train or bus.” When it was brought to light that Bihar was reimbursing the migrants for the fare, the bench responded, “You’re the only state [Bihar] which seems to be reimbursing. The person should have money in their pocket in the first place. No #Migrant should be charged any fare. There has to be some arrangements between states about who bears the cost.”

The bench was still concerned about the payment of fare and asked, “What about states which reimburse? How is the migrant supposed to get reimbursement? Migrant won’t know which state has to pay or what transport is even available. There needs to be a uniform policy, else it will create confusion.” The bench further questioned, “How do you ensure that nobody asks them to pay or troubles them? What we are saying is that the #migrants should be least concerned with means of payment”. To this, SG replied saying the bench should wait for the states to file replies to get the complete picture.”

About provision of meals, SG submitted that “food and water are provided by the originating concerned State from where the migrant workers start their journey and when the journey is undertaken by railways, the railways provides the meal.”

Kapil Sibal, on behalf of intervenors submitted that minimum standards of relief, as provided under section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, have not been provided.  He further submitted that there is no National / State plan as provided under the Act; this was refuted by the SG. He also suggested that more train need to run so that more migrants can go back home. Indira Jaising concurred with this and said that number of trains need to be increased since the number of migrants is also quite large, about 4 crores. To this SG retorted, “You are instigating others to shift who don’t want to shift?”

The difficulty with online registration was also brought forth by Adv. Colin Gonsalves, “most of the migrant workers do not have smart phones and therefore they are not able to comply with so many technicalities which have been required for registration.”  He submitted that due to difficulty in registration, the migrant workers are suffering and they have to pay a huge sum.

The SG, Tushar Mehta, also went on sort of a rant calling out “prophets of doom” and “armchair intellectuals”, in this suo moto petition, who show no courtesy to the nation.


He also mentioned, “Some High Courts are running a parallel government”, pulling a jibe at High Courts indulging in much needed judicial activism and exercising continuous mandamus to ensure that proper measures are put in place and benefits reach the people concerned.

While taking cognizance of the issue on May 26, the Court had said, “Although the Government of India and the State Governments have taken measures yet there have been inadequacies and certain lapses,” and stressed on the importance of “effective concentrated efforts” in order to redeem the situation. It asked the Centre and all states governments as well as Union Territories to bring in the notice of the Court all measures and steps taken by the Government of India and to be taken in this regard on the next date, fixed at May 28.

On May 28, the Court issued a slew of directions after giving a disclaimer, “Although there is no doubt that the concerned State Governments / Union Territories are taking steps to do the needful but there are several difficulties and lapses which are being noticed in the process of registration, transportation and in providing water, food, shelter to these migrant workers.” The directions are as follows:

1. No fare either by train or by bus shall be charged from any migrant workers and instead the same to be borne by states

2. Stranded migrants be provided food free of cost by the host state

3. At the beginning of the journey, originating states will provide meal and water and during the journey, Railways will provide the same. Food and water should be provided in buses as well, by the originating state.

4. Simplify and speed up registration process for migrants and provide help desks where migrants are stranded and ensure they are provided transportation at the earliest.

5. Migrants found walking shall be provided with transportation and meals and water by concerned state

6. The receiving state shall provide transport, health screening and other facilities free of cost.

The case will be heard on June 5, when Centre and states will file their affidavit in reply. The court has asked for details regarding the number of migrant workers, the plan to transport them to their destination, the mechanism of registration and so on in the responses to be submitted by centre and state governments.

The complete order can be read here.


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