The Supreme Court of India has agreed to hear a petition relating to payment of wages by the government to all migrant workers, whether formal, informal or self-employed, amidst the national lockdown.
The plea was mentioned today by Advocate Prashant Bhushan, before Justice L Nageshwar Rao by telephone. It is scheduled to be listed on the next day the court sits.
As per the petition, filed by social activists Harsh Mander and Anjali Bhardwaj, the lockdown order issued by the Central government under the Disaster Management Act discriminates arbitrarily between citizens affected by the same disaster.
"While it theoretically ensures that there is no loss of wages of workers who are employed on account of the disaster, it makes no provision for loss of livelihood suffered by self-employed daily wage eamers (migrants or otherwise) who are affected by the same disaster and suffering the same hardships," the plea states.
Further it states,
"The order makes no provisions for payment of wages of workers who may have already migrated (inter or intra state) and cannot come to collect wages, 'at place of work' as they are under the mandatory 14 day quarantine."
The Petitioners have pointed out that the Disaster Management Act obliges the Central and State governments to prepare a detailed plan and machinery for dealing with and mitigating the effects of disasters, including taking steps required to help the victims of the disasters whether direct or indirect in accordance with the plan.
Thus, it is the duty of both the state as well as the central governments to jointly and severally ensure payments of wages/ minimum wages to all the migrants, who are the indirect victims of the COVID-19 disaster.
The Petitioner asserts that the government's inaction in protecting the lives of these migrant workers, who are being forced to move back to their villages during this "unprecedented humanitarian crisis", is violative of their right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
"The order ignores the harsh realities that workers have to persistently face in cities that is further compounded when a lockdown order deprives them of their job, daily wages and hence means of survival, thus violating their Article 21 rights," the plea states.
It further adds,
"Article 21 gives the right to every citizen to have access to all the minimal requirements of living with dignity and consequently obligates the State to provide these minimal \s facilities to them especially when they are deprived of these on account of the orders of the State (even when such orders are required for dealing with disasters)."
Inter alia, the Petitioners has prayed that the government be directed to immediately activate National and State Advisory committees of experts in the field of disaster management and public health to prepare national and state disaster management plans for dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic, taking into account all relevant aspects, mitigation measure' their possible costs and consequences as required under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Petition has been prepared by Advocates Cheryl Dsouza and Rahul Gupta.