The Supreme Court on Monday reserved judgment on the issue of transfer of funds from PMCARES Fund to NDRF for relief works in combating the Covid19 pandemic,
A bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy & MR Shah was hearing the suo motu case pertaining to the plight of migrant workers amid Coronavirus induced lockdown.
The bench also took up the plea by Centre for Public Interest Litigation, filed by Advocate Prashant Bhushan setting up of a National Covid Plan and lack of the same thereof along with the issue of existence of PMCARES Fund while a National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) was already in existence under the DMA.
Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave appeared for Centre For Public Interest Litigations seeking and argued that the setting up of the PMCARES Fund was in fact, a "Fraud Upon the Constitution", without any transparency advanced by the
Dave: The 2019 plan does not provide for any relief as contemplated under the Act. Can there be No National Plan" during times of Covid? No specific scheme regarding funding. The issue of transferring funds from all other funds, including PM CARES, is also there, but that's a secondary issue.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for an NGO made submissions before the bench regarding the alleged absence of a "National Plan" for tackling the pandemic situation. He said that the plan as put forth by the Solicitor General on record was not in consonance with the tenets laid down in the Disaster Management Act.
Sibal: It's a very holistic statute, I would like to read out these provisions. Section 21 is regarding a district plan. Minimum requirements regarding water, shelter etc. need to be provided. Where are these standards?
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta rebutted arguments of Sibal on ground of there being a National Plan in place which counteracted the District Level issues as well. He added that the National Disaster Management Plan, from 2019, included Biological disaster, since at that time no one knew about COVID, stating that Sibal's argument was thus "factually wrong"
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi made submissions regarding the lack of food security, absence of health insurance benefits and the impending loom of unemployed labour amid the Coronavirus pandemic. He stated that the National Plan was devoid of any of these issues.
Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar appeared for the State of Bihar and told the Bench that a the State has been following the National Plan in consortium with National Authority.
The instant case by CPIL pertains to a plea seeking transfer of all funds from PM CARES Fund which was set up to combat the COVID-19 pandemic to National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) and setting up of a National Plan under Section 11, read with Section 10 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, in order to deal with the current pandemic and, to lay down minimum standards of relief under Section 12 of DMA.
The plea further contends that the NDRF is not being utilized by the authorities, despite the looming health crisis, and that the setting up of the PM CARES Fund is outside the scope of the DM Act. It further raises the issue of lack of transparency with regard to the PM Cares Fund, stating that it is not subject to CAG Audits and has also been proclaimed to be outside the purview of the RTI Act by not being under the definition of "public authority".
The Supreme Court had on July 9 pulled up the State of Maharashtra for its lackadaisical approach in filing a detailed affidavit in the Suo Motu case pertaining to the problems and miseries of migrant workers.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul & MR Shah stated that since the instant suo motu case was not adversarial in nature, it was the duty of the State of Maharashtra to file a detailed affidavit and apprise the Court of the real time issues faced by Migrants.
The Court was taking stock of its suo motu case along with IA's and pleas filed for purposes of issuance of directions for safeguarding rights of Migrant Workers.
In May, the Top Court had taken took Suo Motu cognisance of the problems and miseries of migrant labourers who have been stranded in different parts of the country amid the Coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Vide a suo motu order titled "IN RE: Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers" the Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul & MR Shah state that even though the issue is being addressed at both State and Central levels, "effective and concentrated efforts are required to redeem the situation".
In this backdrop, the Court had passed a slew of significant directions such as non-charging of fares for migrant workers for travel, providing free of cost food by the concerned state and UT to them, simplifying and speeding up the process of registration of migrants and ensuring that those walking on roads are immediately taken to shelters and provided food.
Subsequently, on June 5, before reserving orders after hearing Centre, State and few intervenors, the bench had observed that it was mulling to grant 15 days time to authorities to transport migrants to their native places. It went on to pass directions in this regard:
1) All States and UTs to identify stranded migrants and transport them back to native places within 15 days;
2) States to consider withdrawal of all cases filed against migrants under Disaster Management Act for lockdown violations, for attempting to walk to native places, crowding at stations etc;
3) In event of demand of Shramik Trains, the railways shall provide trains within 24 hours;
4) Provide all schemes to migrant workers and publicise them. Help desks to be established to help migrants to avail employment opportunities;
5) Centre and states to prepare a list for identification of migrant workers in a streamlined manner;
6) Employment relief to be mapped out and skill-mapping to be carried out for migrants;
7) Counselling centres to be established to find a way back for return travel, if they want to.
On June 19, the bench clarified that its June 9 order for transportation of migrant workers to their hometowns within 15 days was mandatory.
Several intervenors such as Activist Medha Patekar & Advocate Nachiketa Vajpayee had also filed their respective pleas seeking issuance of specific directions for the benefit of migrant workers.