06/11/2020, 16.12
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India’s Supreme Court shields migrant workers from fines and prison

by Biju Veticad

Abandoned in the cities without work, money or food, migrants have walked home to their villages over thousands of kilometres, violating the lockdown. They could have been sentenced to one year in prison. According to SEEDS, a migrant advocacy NGO, the law must be made for people and not people for the law.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Supreme Court of India has ruled that migrant workers left in the cities without work, money, food or housing during the lockdown cannot be prosecuted even if they violated the quarantine law by going home on foot.

In a ruling issued on Tuesday, the Court called on the Union and state governments not to prosecute migrants for their "misbehaviour”.

As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi locked down the whole country at midnight on 24 March, closing all activities, including transportation.

In order to avoid going hungry and getting infected, hundreds of millions of daily labourers took to the road, on their way to their home villages, walking thousands of kilometres. In so doing, they violated government orders, exposing themselves to fines and up to one year in prison.

The decision of the Supreme Court balances out the situation and shows that laws should be made for people and not people for the law, this according to Ms Anuradha, from SEEDS,[*] a Delhi-based migrant rights NGO.

“The order of the Supreme Court is what the whole country expected,” Anuradha told AsiaNews. “The burden on migrants due to the lockdown is known to everyone. Migrants decided to go home walking thousands of kilometres forced by hunger and lack of work."

SEEDS was founded in 1994 to support the most vulnerable people in society, especially in times of disaster, like floods, landslides, earthquakes, etc.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, SEEDS has been operating in nine states, including Odisha, Bihar, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Uttarakhand.

According to Anuradha, SEEDS’s goal “is to support people who are in difficult and unmanageable situations due to unexpected events”.

The Supreme Court also ordered Indian Railways, the state-operated railway system, to increase train services to allow migrants to go home as quickly as possible.

[*] Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society.

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