Libertatem Magazine

Supreme Court Takes Suo Moto Cognizance of Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers

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Several migrant labourers have been stuck as a result of the nationwide lockdown declared on March 25 and subsequent extensions. Many workers resorted to travelling hundreds of kilometres back home because they lacked the financial resources to survive the lockdown or the ability to travel. There have been thousands of deaths.

Facts of the Case

On March 30th, 2020 various parties filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petitions asking the Court to provide orders to the Union and States since the lockdown commenced. On, March 31th, 2020 the Court Provided Citizens with Accurate Information moreover, the Bench ordered the Indian government to issue a daily bulletin across all media outlets, including social media, to dispel people’s misgivings. The Bench also recommended that the official version of COVID-19 related developments be published by all media sources. April 7th, 2020, Dr. Jagdeep S Chhokar (Founder and Trustee, ADR) and Gaurav Jain filed a PIL in April, requesting that the Union and State governments coordinate the transportation of stranded migrant workers back to their homes. The PIL, however, came in vain because its petitioners ultimately chose to take their case to the High Courts. On May 8, Alakh Alok Srivastava filed an Interim Application with the Court, highlighting the migrant laborer crisis. He specifically mentioned the train tragedy in Aurangabad, which claimed the lives of approximately 16 migrant workers. He also asked the Court to order District Magistrates across India to seek down and assist stranded migrant workers. Justices L Nageswara Rao, S K Kaul, and B R Gavai made up a three-judge bench that heard the case. The Court refused to intervene, stating, “How can we prevent them from walking?” It was left to the state legislatures to consider this question. Suo Motu Cognizance on May 25th, 2020, Meanwhile, the issue grew worse, prompting a group of 20 senior lawyers, including P. Chidambaram, Anand Grover, Indira Jaising, and Mihir Desai, to write a letter to the Supreme Court on May 25, 2020. The non-interference of the Court, according to this late-night letter, infringed migrant workers’ fundamental rights. They stressed that the condition of migrant workers is a human rights disaster, not just a “policy issue.” The lawyers requested that the Court intervene as well as provide free transportation, food, and shelter. May 26th, 2020 the Supreme Court took suo moto notice of the “issues and miseries of migrant labourers who had been stranded in various regions of the country” the next day in In Re: Problems And Miseries Of Migrant Laborers. The Central and State Governments were given notice by a three-judge bench comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and MR Shah.

Court Requests a Detailed Report of Measures Taken on May 28, 2020. The Court noted after hearing the speakers that while several steps were taken to assist the workers, they were insufficient. The Union and State Governments were then ordered to submit a thorough report on the actions done to assist the workers within a week. On June 9, 2020, the Supreme Court issued a detailed order and eight directives to the federal, state, and union territory governments. On the 19th of June, 2020, the court heard an Intervention Request. On July 8th, 2020, the application was heard alongside the main subject. The court punished the Maharashtra State Government for their harsh tone in their affidavit as well as their inaction in an order dated July 9, 2020. They then mentioned that Sarva Hara Jan Andolan and Delhi Sharmik Sangathan had filed an Interlocutory Application on behalf of migrants who had not yet been returned or given relief. On 31st July 2020 the court pointed to the ruling issued on June 9, 2020, and the three enactments that states must register under to improve migrant worker relief.

Court’s Observation

The bench singled out the states of Maharashtra and Delhi for failing to file their affidavits following the earlier direction in its most recent order, dated September 1, 2020. Even though these two states have the highest number of migrant workers, this is the case. In its most recent ruling, dated September 1, 2020, the panel singled out Maharashtra and Delhi for failing to file their affidavits in conformity with the previous direction. This is true although these two states have the most migrant labour.

Court’s Decision

The Court decided on May 24, 2021, in its Order that all stranded migrants must be given dry meals under the Atma Nirbhar scheme or any other scheme. The Bench also stated that a central database for migrant labour registration is required. Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R Shah discussed the subject of unregistered migrant labourers and their capacity to get benefits under the Atma Nirbhar scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, and the “One Nation One Ration Card” scheme during the hearing on June 11th.

On 29th June 2021, the Court stated in its judgment that the migrant workers were in the same circumstances as they were in March 2020 when the second wave began. The Court focused on seven issues, including food and rations, workers’ rights and registration, and direct bank payments, even though no Court assistance was required in arranging transportation for migrants in the second wave.

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