The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognizance media reports that the trains which are ferrying the migrant labourers are not only starting late but are taking many additional days to reach destination.
In one of the reports, it is alleged that many migrant labourers lost life during their journey by train due to longer duration and no arrangements for drinking water and food etc.
Reportedly, 2 persons died in Muzaffarpur and one each in Danapur, Sasaram, Gaya, Begusarai and Jehanabad in Bihar including a 4 year old boy. All of them have reportedly died due to hunger. In another incident, a train reportedly started from Surat district in Gujarat for Siwan in Bihar on 16.05.2020 and reached Bihar on 25.05.2020 i.e. after 9 days.
The Commission has observed that the contents of the media reports, if true, amount to gross violations of human rights. The aggrieved families have suffered irrevocable loss. The state has failed to protect the lives of the poor labourers on board the trains.
Accordingly, it has issued notices to the Chief Secretaries of Gujarat and Bihar, Chairman, Railway Board and Union Home Secretary calling for a detailed report in the matter. The Chief Secretaries of the Government of Gujarat and Bihar are expected to specifically inform as to what steps were taken to ensure basic facilities including medical facilities for the migrant labourers who boarded the trains. The response from all the authorities is expected within 4 weeks, positively.
Issuing the notices, the Commission has observed that the Rail network in India is the largest in the world and well equipped with the modern technology, trained staff and other infrastructure. A train getting late due to bad weather etc. for some hours is always considered beyond 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 further observed that the poor labourers, who have already suffered a lot in a distant places and are desperate to reach their homes to meet family members. It is a matter of concern for it as they are being subjected to such a treatment by the Railway authorities, which borders around barbarism. The poor labourers cannot be treated in such an inhuman manner just because they are poor and the government has paid for their tickets. Any shortcoming on the part of the government agencies cannot be covered under excuse of unprecedented situation amid countrywide lockdown.
The Commission noted that a large number of people have fallen prey to Covid-19 virus in India and hundreds have lost life so far. The situation is unprecedented leaving the government agencies, scientists and the public at large totally clueless.
Nevertheless, it noted that the complaints are being received from different parts of the country regarding unnecessary harassment of people by the public authorities. 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 the 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 Commission observed that it is evident that, due to whatsoever reasons, the 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 trains have started operating and the ticket charges are being borne by the central and the state governments but the sufferings of the poor labourers are not seemingly coming to an end. There have been several media reports stating that in many cases, the labourers are being called to board the train. They are brought to the railway stations in buses without maintaining social distancing. They are put to wait for hours without any arrangements of drinking water, food, shaded shelter and toilets for them. The female labourers, old aged persons, ill persons, small children and specially abled persons are reportedly suffering a lot. Many times the poor labourers have been told to go back as the trains got cancelled.
National Human Rights Commission
[Press Release dt. 28-05-2020]