Indians walking on India’s roads and railway tracks and desperate to get home to shelter and food, said India’s Solicitor General to the Supreme Court of India, were “not waiting for their turn”. Therefore, what could the Central government do to help them?
The Supreme Court of India, in turn, dismissed a petition which wanted district magistrates across India to implement government guidelines and provide for India’s workers, starving, suffering and without food or succour. The SC said the court could not prevent migrants from walking and told the petitioner, ‘Will you go and implement government guidelines? We will give you a special pass.” The apex court said it could not monitor the situation and could not depend only on news reports; and thus ended the matter.
Indians at their neediest and most pained, have been denied once more. By the highest authorities in the land. The Prime Minister in one of his most recent declamations said we had to depend on ourselves to get out of the problems caused by the virus. And the SC followed his diktats by saying in effect, let the petitioner take on the role of the government. Does the SC mean that the government is not capable? Or that the SC does not care? Or that India’s migrant workers, guest labourers, the backbone of industry, whatever you want to call them, or just Indian citizens, just do not matter?
That the Centre does not care, we already know. The Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal proudly announced that not a single Indian had died of starvation. Should we give him a round of applause? The Solicitor General of India on April 1 informed that Supreme Court that no migrant workers were on the road. This was a patent lie much like Goyal’s statement.
Now that they cannot hide from the fact that people are on the roads, we are told that these people refuse to “wait their turn”. What does this mean? Whose turn was it for government aid? How long do you have to starve before it’s your “turn”? If the Centre thinks that providing basic healthcare – and even that is questionable – to patients infected with a dangerous virus during a global pandemic is the extent of its mandate, then there is no hope for us.
Lawyers, legal and Constitutional experts will parse the Supreme Court’s acceptance of the Solicitor General’s comments. Others can get into the nitty-gritty of the promulgation of the Epidemic Diseases Act and the sharing of responsibility between Centre and states. But for the Indian citizen, it sounds like justice has turned a blind eye to the pain of India.
Luckily, India’s High Courts appear to hold out some semblance of hope. They can acknowledge news reports and they can be affected by suffering.
The Karnataka High Court had this to say, this week: “The State Government and the Central Government, during this difficult time, must appreciate the major contribution made by the migrant workers in a large number of public projects as well as private projects which have contributed to the improvement of the infrastructure in all the States and the improvement of economy. At a time when the migrant workers who have made such a huge contribution are facing distress, both the Central and State Government must come forward to help them to ensure that at the earliest, they return back to their home States.”
The Gujarat High Court has taken suo moto notice of those news reports, mind you the same news reports that justices of the Supreme Court cannot be bothered about, which show in stark outlines the miseries of India’s labourers and workers, both migrant and local. A division bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and Ilesh Vora said, “It is the paramount duty of the State Authorities to ensure that its citizens do not go hungry…What is essential as of now is a more humane approach or touch”.
That’s the word, really, “humane”. Not “self-reliance”. Not “what can we do”. Not, “why don’t you do it”. Not “wait your turn”. Not, “O yaay, no one has died of starvation yet”.
A district magistrate in Uttar Pradesh apparently said of an image of an exhausted child collapsed on a suitcase being pulled along the road, that he has similar memories of having fun on suitcases on wheels during his holidays while he was still a child.
These are the people who run our country. And these are the pillars of our state.
And that is why there are only slim slivers of hope in these desperate times.