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The Supreme Court today disposed of a petition seeking relief for migrant workers amid the COVID-19 lockdown, while asking the Centre to take action on the issue of "movement of persons between states."
The matter was heard today by a three-judge Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai.
Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava had filed an application in his own plea before the Supreme Court seeking urgent interim directions to ensure that rights of migrant workers are safeguarded and basic essentials such as food, water, shelter and medical aid are provided to them during the nationwide lockdown.
Today, the Bench sought to verify the information it received that movement of migrant workers between states has stopped.
To this, the petitioner replied that a few state governments had stated that they will provide transportation to help migrant workers reach their native villages.
However, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) status report filed before the Court mentions that there is no inter-state movement allowed, and that complete restrictions were now in place.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also informed Court that the MHA had issued guidelines against any such movement.
The Supreme Court, on March 31, had directed authorities and police across state lines to take necessary steps to ensure welfare activities for migrant workers.
The petitioner had thereafter filed an application expressing concern over media reports suggesting that the order of the Apex Court was not being followed in spirit.
Thus, Srivastava, in his application filed on April 20, sought orders directing all District Magistrates (DMs) across the country to conduct daily inspections of all shelter homes, camps and such facilities in their respective districts to ensure that essential supplies are being adequately provided to migrant workers.
"Such a large scale migration, although intra-state, defeats the purpose of the present Lockdown and also violates the various directions issued by the Respondent UOI. Furthermore, it may amount to a bad precedent, as it may instill feeling of resentment in the minds of other stranded migrant labourers of other states, who are unable to go to their native villages during Lockdown."
Application filed by Srivastava
The Bench ultimately disposed of the matter, stating that the Centre would "look into it."
Status Report filed by Home Secretary
The status report in the case, filed by Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, lays down that measures taken by the Centre was "to obviate the difficulties faced by low wage-earners in the organized sector, cash transfer under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana".
The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that migrant workers don’t need to travel to their native places during the lockdown, as the government is taking care of their daily needs wherever they are being sheltered.
This was the second status report filed by the Centre in response to Srivastava's plea seeking relief for migrant workers, including payment of wages.
The Centre stated in its report that it has allowed such workers to withdraw EPFO money in advance to avoid financial hurdles. As on April 9, 1,49,891 members have availed of the facility.
The Centre has also provided statistics on the number of shelter camps set up for migrants across various states.
"As per the latest statistics furnished by the state governments and Union territories, 37,978 relief camps have already been set up by state governments and Union Territories and genuine NGOs. Nearly 14.3 lakh persons have been housed in these camps. In addition to the above, 26,225 food camps have also been opened giving food to nearly 1.34 crore persons."
Status Report filed by Centre
One of the other pleas tagged along with Srivastava's was Advocate Rashmi Bansal's. The PIL by Bansal sought directions for sanitizing and disinfecting migrant workers before travel to their native places.
The petition had sought directions for the Centre and the state to ensure that the workers who have flocked at bus stations waiting to be ferried to their native places are sanitized and disinfected before their journey.
Additionally, a direction for state governments to take steps to stop the exodus and to ensure that the workers are allowed to move to cities only after being disinfected, had also been sought.
[READ THE ORDER]