After an intense exchange of arguments that ensued in the Supreme Court today, on the issue of country-wide plight surroundings Migrant Workers amid lockdown, Top Court passed a number of notable directions to allay their miseries.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the Centre while Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal, Colin Gonsalves, Indira Jaising appeared for the Intervenors in the Suo Motu Case titled "IN Re: Problems & Miseries of Migrant Workers".
Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh appeared for Activist Medha Patekar, who had filed a plea seeking formulation of a "unified-ticketing-system" for migrant workers traveling via trains as well as schemes for providing them with financial support during and post lockdown.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal appeared for Delhi Shramik Sangathan & another NGO. Before he started apprising the court, Sibal added that "he was not here for any political purpose" but appeared on behalf of interested organisations, wanting to point to relevant statutory provisions under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
He argued that there were certain legalities that must be looked into in light of the crisis surrounding migrant workers looming large.
In order to substantiate this, Sibal highlighted the requisite action plan which is paramount to be taken by the National Executive Committee (NEC) whenever there is a disaster vis-à-vis the Disaster Management Act, 2005. This plan, he added, is then approved by the National Disaster Management Authority, presided over by the Prime Minister.
Sibal: "Under the DMA, whenever there is a disaster, a national plan should be prepared by the NEC which is then approved by the DM authority presided over by the Prime minister. Minimum standards include shelter, food, drinking water, medical cover and sanitation"
The formulation of a national plan by the NEC is elucidated in Section 11 of the DMA, 2005, to be made "in consultation with the State Governments and expert bodies of organisations in the field of disaster management to be approved by the National Authority"
- FYI : Section 11 of the DMA, 2005 states,
(1) There shall be drawn up a plan for disaster management for the whole of the country to be called the National Plan.(2) The National Plan shall be prepared by the National Executive Committee having regard to the National Policy and in consultation with the State Governments and expert bodies or organisations in the field of disaster management to be approved by the National Authority.
(3) The National Plan shall include—(a) measures to be taken for the prevention of disasters, or the mitigation of their effects;(b) measures to be taken for the integration of mitigation measures in the development plans;(c) measures to be taken for preparedness and capacity building to effectively respond to any threatening disaster situations or disaster;(d) roles and responsibilities of different Ministries or Departments of the Government of India in respect of measures specified in clauses (a), (b) and (c).(4) The National Plan shall be reviewed and updated annually.(5) Appropriate provisions shall be made by the Central Government for financing the measures to be carried out under the National Plan.(6) Copies of the National Plan referred to in sub-sections (2) and (4) shall be made available to the Ministries or Departments of the Government of India and such Ministries or Departments shall draw up their own plans in accordance with the National Plan"
Further, highlighting the pre-requisite of invoking Section 12 of the DMA, 2005 during disasters, Sibal stated that the Section required adoption of minimum standards of basic amenities to the effected public.
- FYI: Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act states,
"This has guidelines which spell out minimum standards. It has not been done." Sibal argued.
With this, he sought to rebut the stand of Centre according to which the Migrants were walking due to "local instigation" basis the legalities envisaged under the DMA.
Sibal:"This is the reason [non-implementation of minimum standards and lack of coordination] why people are walking. It has nothing to do with politics. People are walking away from shelters because the shelter homes are not upto standard."
Further, Sibal emphasized that the Centre's affidavit was vague and inadequate at the state and district levels.
Sibal: "If it's going to take 3 months to transport rest of the people, what are the arrangements? Trains running on 3% capacity. In the current situation, it will take 3 months for people to go"
At this juncture, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta interjected, stating that all migrants were in fact not wishing to head back to their native places.
SG - They don't wish to go. You don't understand that ?
Sibal: How can you say that?
SG: I said they were leaving on foot because of local instigation!
The bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and M R Shah directed Centre, States & UT's to file their replies and listed the matter on June 5.
The Court also passed an interim order directing that no fare should be collected from migrants by States for travel by rail or bus. The Court also passed directions for ensuring food security and basic amenities to travelling migrants.
The Court recorded Sibal's submissions in the order as follows :
"Mr. Kapil Sibal, learned senior counsel submits that the minimum standards of relief, as provided under section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, have not been provided. He further submits that there are no National / State plan as provided under the Act, which submission has been refuted by Mr. Tushar Mehta, the learned Solicitor General. Mr. Kapil Sibal, learned senior counsel submits that more trains have to be run to speed up transportation 6 of workers. He further submits that there are difficulties in the registration of the workers".
It was on May 26 that the Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance of the migrants crisis, which had been on going since the announcement of country-wide lockdown on March 24. The Court said that there were "inadequacies and certain lapses" in the measures taken by the governments for migrants welfare.
"We take suo motu cognisance of problems and miseries of migrant labourers who had been stranded in different parts of the country. The newspaper reports and the media reports have been continuously showing the unfortunate and miserable conditions of the migrant labourers walking on-foot and cycles from long distances", the bench said.