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The Supreme Court today expressed its inclination not to interfere with the decisions taken by the government as regards migrant workers amid the Coronavirus lockdown.
Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, who heard the matter with Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Deepak Gupta, said,
"We cannot take a better policy decision at this stage."
The Bench was hearing the plea filed by former IAS officer Harsh Mander and RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj regarding payment of wages to migrant workers in the midst of the lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
A status report on the issues was filed by the Centre this morning, the Court said. This report, however, was not served to Advocate Prashant Bhushan, counsel for the petitioners.
Bhushan went on to argue that migrant workers depend on daily wages, not only for buying their meals, but also for sending money back home to their families.
He added that shelter homes now house lakhs of migrant workers to stop internal migration in the face of the lockdown. This poses a risk of spread of the novel Coronavirus in the shelter homes, given that norms of social distancing are impossible to be followed in such a setting.
Solicitor General for India Tushar Mehta told the Court that the government was looking into the issue and was monitoring the complaints being received in this regard. He assured the Court that the government is on top of the situation.
CJI Bobde said that at this stage, the Court does not want to interfere in the orders passed by the government for the coming few days.
Bhushan was given time by the Court to peruse the status report and the case will be taken up again on Monday, April 13.
The petitioners have approached the Supreme Court to enforce the fundamental rights of migrant workers who are severely affected by the 21-day nationwide lockdown ordered by the Central government in view of the COVID-19 outbreak.
It is the petitioners' case that the March 29 order passed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India was not the correct or adequate response to the large scale exodus of migrant workers effected by the lockdown.
This order had directed employers to pay wages to the migrant workers and for their landlords not to evict them.
It is asserted that instead of the employers, the central and state authorities must ensure wages to these migrant workers at the place where they are currently present during the lockdown.
The petition reads,
"The government must...ensure that the wages are paid to migrant workers at the place that they are presently located during the lockdown, whether in their home state or in shelter homes or in the state where they had migrated to before the lockdown..."
It is further contended that the Disaster Management Act obliges the Central and state governments to put in place a detailed plan and machinery to deal with and mitigate the effects of disasters such as COVID-19, and extend all help to the victims.
The petition was drawn by Advocate Cheryl D’Souza and the petitioners were represented by Advocate Prashant Bhushan.