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The Supreme Court today asked the Centre what steps it was taking to address the issues concerning payment of wages to migrant workers employed in private industries and those rendered unemployed in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
The Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices L Nageswara Rao and Mohan M Shantanagoudar took up a batch of petitions concerning the plight of migrant workers via video conferencing today.
Petitions on this issue include those filed by former bureaucrat Harsh Mander and RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, as well as a letter petition by Member of Parliament Mahua Moitra.
In its status report submitted earlier, the Centre had detailed all the steps taken for the welfare and benefit of migrant workers. It had submitted that no migrant workers were left stranded on roads as on March 31, and that they were being lodged in shelter homes.
The Court had then passed directions to make sure that the inmates in these shelter homes are provided with adequate food, water, medicines et al.
Today, Justice Rao asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta whether the Centre was taking steps for payment of wages or for providing some income to workers who have no means to support themselves during the lockdown.
SG Mehta referred to a status report filed by the Centre, which details the amount of money released towards being deposited in the accounts of daily wage workers through a direct benefit scheme. The Court, however, did not have these documents being referred to.
In the absence of the requisite documents being referred to, the Court asked for the same to circulated. It has fixed the next hearing for next week, noting that no orders can be passed without the information furnished by the Centre.
As regards wages, the Supreme Court had earlier stated that it does not wish to pass any directions to interfere with the policy decisions taken by the Centre in the present situation, at least for some time.
The Centre subsequently apprised the Court of the amount of money released towards payment of wages to the migrant workers.
During the hearing of Moitra's plea, it was argued that the government was not doing enough. Setting up a helpline number or developing an app was not adequate. She asked how the government intended to ensure the implementation of its advisory asking employers not to lay off workers and to pay their wages during the lockdown.
The Court, however, said that the pandemic is an unprecedented problem of large magnitude and while the government is taking necessary steps, this is not a problem that can be solved in one day.