United Nations, June 5: UN independent experts have voiced deep concern over the plight of migrant workers in India amid the COVID-19 pandemic and expressed hope that the Indian government will promptly implement the Supreme Court’s order to alleviate their hardships.
UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing Balakrishnan Rajagopal and UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty Olivier De Schutter on Thursday applauded the Indian Government’s efforts so far to provide relief packages for people living in poverty and to schedule extra train rides to transport the migrant labourers to their native homes.
They, however, said these measures have been clearly inadequate and insufficient due to the vast majority of internal migrant workers not qualifying for relief packages, and the lack of coordination among state governments for the transportation of internal migrants.
The UN experts expressed hope the Supreme Court order will be promptly implemented and help to dramatically improve the situation of internal migrant workers.
Many are stranded in intolerable conditions, hungry and without shelter, after losing their income and being forced to vacate their residences by their landlords, the experts said.
The Supreme Court last week directed that no fare for travel either by train or bus be charged from the migrant workers stranded across the country and they be provided food and water.
The apex court, which passed interim directions, said all migrant workers who are stranded at various places shall be provided food by concerned states and Union Territories (UTs) at places which shall be publicised and notified to them for the period they are waiting for their turn to board a train or a bus.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said that the originating state shall provide meals and water at the station and during the journey while the Railways would provide the same to the migrant workers. It said that food and water be also provided to them for travel in buses.
The scale of the COVID-19 crisis in India is testing the government’s commitment to protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society.
“By making sure that internal migrant workers urgently receive the necessary assistance during this crisis, in compliance with the order issued by the Supreme Court, it will give the government the opportunity to show its willingness to comply with its responsibilities under human rights law, the UN experts said.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday said the government was pained by the suffering of migrant workers and tried its best to ensure that they do not face any problem either in commuting or after reaching their respective states.
He noted that one crore people have been able to return home so far.
Shah’s remarks came amid criticism of the government over the handling of the migrants issue as tens of thousands of people have been forced to walk for days or take unsafe modes of transport to their native places during the coronavirus lockdown.
The UN experts’ call has been endorsed by Special Rapporteur on the right to food Michael Fakhri, the Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health Dainius Puras and the Special Rapporteur on minority issues Fernand de Varennes.
The experts have also conveyed their concerns directly to the government of India, according to a UN press release.
Rajagopal of the US is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context.
De Schutter of Belgium is the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. (PTI)