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The Supreme Court today disposed of a petition pertaining to the plight of the migrant workers during the COVID-19 lockdown after calling upon the government to look into the concerns raised.
In the previous hearing, the Court had 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 Court had 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.
To answer the Court's question, Mehta had referred to certain documents and reports detailing the amount of money released by the Centre towards for the benefit of the workers. However, that day's hearing was adjourned in light of the unavailability of the documents with the Court.
Today, Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing petitioners Harsh Mander and Anjali Bhardwaj, told the Court that thousands of migrant workers were still not receiving sufficient food and that many of them were getting only one meal per day.
He added that the shelter homes where these workers were lodged are overcrowded, and that there was a mockery made of the system put in place for ensuring containment of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Bhushan referred to a study conducted which suggested that an overwhelmingly large chunk of these migrant workers were not receiving rations from the government, and that 86% of those surveyed had not received any wages. While the government has directed the private companies to pay wages to the workers employed by them, these employers have no money to do so, Bhushan argued.
Objecting to Bhushan's submissions, Mehta said that the government is taking steps to ensure food and shelter for everyone. Additionally, there is a helpline number set up, the SG said. People who can call the number will be provided food within an hour, he added.
The Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and BR Gavai today said that all actors in these times, including the government, are doing the best they can. It further said that the government is in a better position to decide on the steps that need to be and can be taken in the given scenario.
With these observations, the petition was disposed of.
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.