NHRC and Supreme Court
NHRC and Supreme Court
Litigation News

Migrant Workers Crisis: After taking suo motu cognizance of the issue, NHRC intervenes in suo motu case before Supreme Court

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today allowed the intervention application filed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in the suo motu case concerning the plight of migrant workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier, the NHRC itself had also taken suo motu cognizance of the issue.

The three-Judge Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and MR Shah allowed the intervention plea today. After a long and detailed hearing which lasted for over an hour the Apex Court also reserved its order in the matter, which is scheduled to be delivered on June 9.

In its application before the Supreme Court, the NHRC details that the Commission took suo motu cognizance of the issue after perusing the media reports highlighting the difficulties faced by migrant workers.

The application adds that from news reports on the large-scale migration that took place amid lockdown, it also became evident that the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act of 1979 was never implemented "in its true spirit."

This Act was enacted to govern and regulate the employment of inter-state migrant workers and to provide for service conditions for them, among other things. However, the various instances that came to light show that the implementation of the Act was flawed.

"The act requires that all establishments hiring inter-state migrants to be registered and contractors who recruit such workmen be licensed. Under the act migrant workers were entitled to wages similar to other workmen, displacement allowance, journey allowance and payment of wages during the period of journey for the migrant workers," the application highlights.

The NHRC, thus, seeks short term as well as long term measures that may be considered by the top Court to ensure that the basic human rights and fundamental rights of poor migrant workers are not violated.

Given the return migration induced by the lockdown, the NHRC has sought for specific short term measures such as directions for States, employers and concerned authorities to ensure the safety and welfare of these workers during this pandemic.

The NHRC says that the States should collect data on outgoing and incoming workers to effectively plan quarantine and isolation facilities. It should be incumbent upon the Centre and State governments during this time to ensure proper implementation of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act to ensure that migrants are given a journey allowance.

Shelter homes in States should ensure proper medical and food facilities for pregnant women, lactating mothers, infants as well as the menstrual hygiene of women and adolescent girls.

Medical facilities for migrants before, during, and after their journey should be ensured. Further, for those workers walking or cycling back home, food and water should be provided for by the States at outgoing points as well as en route.

Another measure suggested by the NHRC is for the States to identify the industries in which these migrants were employed to facilitate in creating schemes for them and for the maintenance of a nation-wide database. States should also set up helplines for migrant workers, the NHRC has suggested.

Ex-gratia relief should be provided by the concerned District Magistrates and a relief fund must be created for this purpose to benefit the incoming migrants, the NHRC proposes. It adds where a worker is starts a journey should, the State from where s/he is going should provide some compensation if the worker be identified as destitute. This would prevent them from resorting to begging, it is stated.

The delay and change in the route of Shramik special trains is also an issue raised by the NHRC which says points out that,

"It is of concern that as per many reports 40 per cent of the Shramik trains are late, there is an average delay of 8 hours. Railways in consultation with the respective State Governments should ensure that such delays do not take place and the trains do not reach wrong destinations. A mission similar to that of the dedicated Vande Bharat Mission should be started in a phased manner to help migrant workers reach their source destination"

The long term measures mooted by the NHR include:

  • Introducing special provisions in the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 to deal with emergency situations like Covid-19, natural disasters etc.

  • Appointment of a claim commissioner to look into recovery from employers who abandoned their labourers despite notification for continuity of wages by the Central Government.

  • Allocation of funds to gram panchayats in order to create employment opportunities in the home states of migrants.

  • A National portal for registration of migrants so that a nationwide database is created.

  • Compensation to family members of those who died while migrating to their respective states.

  • Universal ration card to be granted to migrants.

  • A nodal agency that may be created under the Ministry of Labour for the resolution of inter-state migrant labour issues.

  • A simpler registration process ensuring the understanding capability of the migrant workers.

The application was filed through Advocate Mohit Paul and NHRC was represented by Senior Advocate BS Patil before the Court today.

Read Application:

I.A. for directions - NHRC.pdf

Read SC Order:

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news