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NHRC Intervenes In Suo Motu Case On Plight Of Migrants; Suggests Long Term & Short Term Measures [Read Application]

Nilashish Chaudhary
5 Jun 2020 3:31 PM GMT
NHRC Intervenes In Suo Motu Case On Plight Of Migrants; Suggests Long Term & Short Term Measures [Read Application]
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The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has filed an application seeking to intervene in the case of Suo Motu cognizance taken by the Supreme Court with regard to the condition of migrant workers stranded in different parts of the country amid the COVID-19 induced lockdown.

Through its application, NHRC purports to examine the laws governing the protection of human rights of migrants and suggest measures to ensure the same are not compromised, as per its prescribed statutory functions. Since the Commission was established to protect and promote human rights under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, it is stated that the application is in furtherance of its prescribed functions under the Act.

Its functions, states NHRC, are "to intervene in any proceedings involving any allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court", and "to review the safeguards provided by or under the Constitution or any law for the time being in force for the protection of human rights and recommend measures for effective implementation".

The Commission has informed Court that, based on certain reports, it has taken suo motu cognizance of migrants in 6 different cases and has issued notice to various Governments and Departments, asking them for details on what action they have taken to provide food, water and other basic amenities to those who are seen to be struggling.

NHRC details these 6 instances where it felt the need to step in due to apparent human rights violations, and issued notice to the following authorities, in each separate case respectively:-

  • Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra and the District Magistrate, Aurangabad, Maharashtra
  • Chief Secretaries of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh
  • Chief Secretary, Government of Punjab, the Chief Secretary, Government of Uttar Pradesh and the District Magistrate, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
  • Director General of Police, Gujarat
  • Chief Secretary, Government of Uttar Pradesh
  • Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat; Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar; the Chairman, Railway Board, Ministry of Railways, Government of India, New Delhi; and the Home Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi

NHRC further points out that the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 is an important legislation to govern inter-state migrant workers, which was aimed at providing inter-state workmen with conducive work conditions and preventing exploitation.

Despite the legislation granting migrant workers entitlement to wages similar to other workmen, displacement allowance, journey allowance and payment of wages during the period of journey, NHRC contends that their plight in recent times has shown that the Act was never implemented in its true spirit.

In this light, NHRC has come up with a list of 10 short-term and 10 long-term measures to help reduce the hardships and grievance of poor labourers. The Top Court has been asked to consider these suggestions in order to not only alleviate the current plight of migrant workers, but to also ensure that such distress is not caused in the future.

The suggestions enclosed in the application filed through Advocate Mohit Paul are as follows:-

A. Short term measures:

  1. In order to estimate the in-flow of migrant workers, States should collect the data of migrant workers at the point of departure in the originating State as well on arrival in the destination States. This will help States to effectively plan quarantine and relief measures for the migrant workers.
  2. The Government of India and the State Governments must ensure proper implementation of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 so that the migrant workers are provided with a journey allowance.
  3. Menstrual hygiene products should be provided to migrant women and adolescent girls across the country. For example, at the Andhra-Odisha border in Odisha's Ganjam district, the women and adolescent girls among migrant workers walking homeward on the NH16 have received menstrual hygiene products, along with food and other relief material, from Youth for Social Development (YSD), an NGO.
  4. Each state should be directed to ensure proper functioning of shelter homes especially for the accommodation of pregnant women, lactating mothers, children, and elderly persons. Itshould be ensured that medical facilities and nutritious food are available in these shelter homes.
  5. Each State should be directed to identify the industry in which the migrant labour is working i.e construction, agriculture, brick kiln, etc. This identification will aid the State in creating schemes for the migrant workers and in the preparation of a State-wide and Nationwide database.
  6. States should be directed to take steps for the support of migrant workers, similar to the steps taken by the State of Odisha which has set up a toll-free Shramik (labour force) Sahayata Helpline,Migrant Labour Help Desk, seasonal hostels for the children of migrant workers, and has strengthened Anti-Human Trafficking Units for migrant workers.
  7. States must ensure medical facilities for check-ups for migrants before and after the journey, as well as availability of food and medical care during the journey. For migrants who are walking or travelling on bicycles, food and water should be made available both at the originating and destination states, as well as en route.
  8. The originating States should take steps to identify the destitute among the migrant labour and provide some quantum of compensation to ensure that they do not resort to begging after reaching their destination.
  9. 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.
  10. A fund should be created for payment of ex-gratia relief by the concerned DM, which will provide fixed compensation to every migrant returning home.

B. Long term measures:

  1. A special provision to be inserted 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.
  2. Appointment of a claim commissioner to look into recovery from employers who abandoned their labourers despite notification for continuity of wages by Central Govt. For example it appears prima facie that the provisions regarding Accommodation as provided for under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 have been ignored by the employer thus leading to a situation where the workers had to resort to travelling back to their home State.
  3. Allocation of funds to states to be allotted to gram panchayats in order to create employment opportunities in the home states of migrants.
  4. National portal for registration of migrants so that a nationwide database is created.
  5. Compensation to family members of those who died while migrating to their respective states.
  6. Universal ration card to be granted to migrants
  7. Maximum benefits be extended to the migrant labour as provided for under the Unorganised Workers' Social Security Act, 2008.
  8. The government announced it would launch a scheme for affordable rental housing for migrant workers and urban poor to provide ease of living by converting government-funded housing in cities into Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHC). This would be carried out through PPP mode. This should be implemented as soon as possible in order to provide shelter to the migrants.
  9. There should be a nodal agency created under the Ministry of Labour for the resolution of inter-state migrant labour issues. The Secretary from each State/UTs should be a part of this nodal agency and will coordinate with the migrants in their respective states. A study looking at best practices from other countries on issues concerning migrant labour could be commissioned in order to implement or adapt the same in the domestic context.
  10. A simpler registration process ensuring the understanding capability of the migrant workers. Also, the forms should be made available in the local language or the language that is most commonly used in the area.

As the matter was taken up today before a Bench comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah, Senior Advocate Prabhu Patil expressed the NHRC's desire to intervene in the matter.

Patil apprised the Court of this application and stated that the aforementioned measures had been suggested by the Commission.

As the counsel urged the top Court to consider implementing these measures, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta stated that the same could wait, as they were long term solutions and the Court was currently concerned with the present situation.

Patil submitted that the NHRC was not being adversarial and willing to help, while the Solicitor clarified that he was not opposed to the Commission's intervention.

The Bench reserved its Order on the Suo Motu matter and will deliver the same on Tuesday, June 9.

Click Here To Download Application

[Read Application]

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