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'We Don't Plan To Supplant Wisdom Of Govt With Our Wisdom', CJI Says On Relief Measures For Migrant Workers

Sanya Talwar
7 April 2020 7:09 AM GMT
We Dont Plan To Supplant Wisdom Of Govt With Our Wisdom, CJI Says On Relief Measures For Migrant Workers
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The Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned till April 13 the hearing of the PIL seeking directions to the Government for payment of wages to migrant workers belonging to the unorganised sector amid the lockdown.

A bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul & Deepak Gupta took note of the Centre's status report on the said issue and listed the matter on Monday, April 13, 2020.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Petitioner(s), urged that the Court must pass directions so that migrant workers are paid wages at this stage so that they can send money back to their families at home.

In response, the bench asked Bhushan to refer to the status report submitted by the Central Government, and respond by next Monday.

"By Monday, many people will die. The people who are registered with the Government need to be given some money to send to their families" asserted Bhushan.

The CJI led bench, however, refused to pass any directions in this regard, stating that policy decisions were the "prerogative of the Government". The bench also added that a helpline for taking up such complaints can be created by the Government.

"We do not plan to supplant the wisdom of the Government with our wisdom" - said Chief Justice SA Bobde.

"There's a dispute on facts and on the best course to be adopted. How can you say the government is not doing anything when you have not seen the status report of the government?", CJI asked Bhushan

A bench comprising Justices LN Rao & Deepak Gupta on April 3, 2020 had issued notice on the Public Interest Litigation petition filed by activists Harsh Mander and Anjali Bharadwaj seeking directions to the government to pay wages to the migrant workers in the unorganized sector amid the national lockdown.

Apropos this, the bench, while taking note of the plight of migrant workers and the dire straits they are in, had directed the Centre to file its reply on the last date.

The bench had also observed that it was particularly concerned about the plight of migrant workers in the unorganised sector in "this time of crisis".

In the last two days itself, a very large number of migrant workers have been thrown out of their dwelling by landlords, even after the government orders, Mander stated in an affidavit filed in the SC.

The affidavit, inter alia, stated :

"the lockdown and the subsequent orders of the government to prevent their migration back to their homes, have left these migrant workers in a state of unimaginable distress and misery. The government has ordered that the employers should pay wages to all labourers employed with them. But where are these labourers going to get the wages from if they have left the cities they were working in?

In such a situation of immense distress due to the lockdown, The State is certainly obliged to ensure the minimal facilities to these workers for survival in a dignified manner."

Mander stated that the "only practical and effective manner in which the migrant workers can be provided the means of survival in a dignified manner is for the State to immediately make direct transfers (in cash at their door steps or through their banks accounts) of at least minimum wages to all these workers during the period of the lockdown".

The SC had passed an order on March 31 regarding general welfare measures for migrant workers. In that case, the union government stated that about 21,064 relief camps have been set up across the country for migrant workers and about 6,66,291 migrant workers have been provided shelter in these camps.

Mander stated that, even assuming these numbers are correct, there are several times that number of migrant workers in Delhi alone (estimated at 1.5 million).

Referring to various press reports, he stated that many of these migrant workers are still in the cities where they work, but in abject conditions, deprived of the means to work, any wages, money and thus access to food.

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