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The Supreme Court today sought the Centre's response on any proposal in the pipeline for facilitating movement of stranded migrant workers from the place of their migration back to the place of their residence amid lockdown.
The Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and BR Gavai took up the plea filed by Jagdeep Chhokar for hearing via video conferencing. The petition sought for allowing migrants who test negative for COVID-19 to be allowed to return to their homes.
The three-Judge Bench sought Centre's response on the plea within a period of one week.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan told the Court, during the hearing, that the fundamental rights of the migrants were being violated. Citing reports from the media, Bhushan said that over 90% of the stranded migrants were not receiving ration and essential items.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed this submission and said that such reports are incorrect. Mehta, yet again, took objection to Bhushan's arguments and remarked that Bhushan is not the only person concerned with the plight of the migrant workers.
Mehta said that the government is very concerned for the migrant workers and is looking into the issue.
Centre is in consultation with the states on this subject, Mehta told the Court and added that issuance of notice on this plea would not be necessary as it would send out a wrong message. Mehta assured the Court that he would file a status report within two weeks and sought time accordingly.
The Court, however, granted the Centre one week's time to respond to the plea with the steps taken or proposals on the issue of allowing inter-State movement of the migrants back to their places of residence.
The PIL was filed urging the Supreme Court to direct the Centre to allow migrant workers to return to their hometowns and villages after testing them for COVID-19 and for the authorities to provide for their safe travel back home should the workers be found to be COVID negative.
Migrant workers who are stranded away from home at a time when the country is gripped with a health crisis are the worst affected set of people in the present times, the petition said at the outset.
Migrant workers, who have had take to different desperate means in an attempt to return to their homes were all lodged in shelter homes as on March 31, the Centre had told the Supreme Court. The Centre had added that in the interest of containing the pandemic from spreading, the government wants to cease all internal migration.
However, the petition prayed that these distressed migrant workers should be allowed to return home now, in light of the extension of the nation-wide lockdown until May 3. The petitioner had made the prayer invoking the fundamental rights of these workers under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India.
It was suggested that necessary tests be conducted and that those workers who test negative for the novel coronavirus should be allowed to return home, rather than keeping them forcefully in shelter homes, away from their own families and against their wishes. The authorities, in fact, should arrange for the safe travel for these migrant workers to their homes, the PIL added.
The large number of people gathering at bus terminuses in various cities on several occasions is a testament to the fact that the migrant workers are distressed and do not wish to be lodged in shelter homes but want to return home amid this deadly pandemic, the petitioner argued.
These migrant workers are placed very differently in comparison to those persons living at their own homes during this lockdown. Owing to the uncertain situation and circumstances, there is a bigger burden cast upon this set of people, which is a violation of their rights under Article 14, the petitioner averred.
In light of the second phase of the nation-wide lockdown and the circumstances in which the migrant workers find themselves, the petitioner has prayed that the authorities be directed to arrange for a large number of transport facilities to enable the safe return of stranded migrant workers without compromising on the norm of social distancing.
The petitioner was represented by Advocate Prashant Bhushan.