Supreme Court Takes Note of Migrant Workers' Problems, Asks Govts to Respond on Steps Taken

The apex court has issued notices to the Centre, states and Union Territories, seeking replies on steps taken to "redeem the miseries of migrant labourers."

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it has taken suo motu cognisance of the “problems and miseries of migrant labourers who have been stranded in different parts of the country.”

The move comes more than two months since a countrywide lockdown was announced, that resulted in migrants having to travel out of the cities where they worked in (mostly as daily wage earners) and towards their native villages and towns, on foot.

“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 suo motu notice, issued by a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.R. Shah, read.

The apex court has issued notices to the Centre, states and Union Territories, seeking replies on steps taken to “redeem the miseries of migrant labourers.”

The matter is listed for May 28. The court has asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to apprise it, on the day, of the “steps taken by the GOI and to be taken in this regard”.

The SC further said:

“They have also been complaining of not being provided food and water by the administration at places where they were stranded or in the way i.e. highways from which they proceeded on-foot, cycles or other modes of transport.

In the present situation of lockdown in the entire country, this section of the society needs succor and help by the concerned governments, especially steps need to be taken by the government of India, state governments/Union Territories in this difficult situation to extend a helping hand to these migrant labourers.”

The term “suo motu cognisance” is loosely understood to be the recognition of a prevailing situation by a (in this case, judicial) authority, without formal prompting.

This is, however, not the first time that the apex court is dealing with the situation of stranded migrants.

Also read: ‘Can’t Monitor’ Movement of Migrant Workers, States Should Take Action: Supreme Court

On May 15, the Supreme Court had declined to entertain a plea by lawyer Alakh Alok Srivastava, seeking a direction to the Centre to ask all district magistrates to identify stranded migrant workers and provide shelter and food to them before ensuring their free transportation home in view of the incident at Aurangabad in which 16 workers were mowed down by a goods train.

“How can we stop it?” the bench headed by Justice L. Nageswara Rao had observed, adding that states should take necessary action on these issues.

Earlier, on March 31, the Supreme Court heard a public interest litigation filed for the redressal of grievances of migrant workers during the coronavirus pandemic. The PIL specifically sought directions for government authorities to provide shelter and basic amenities to the migrant workers.

As Harshitha Reddy and Pradyuman Kaistha noted in their report for The Wire, based on the Centre’s report that the migrants’ crisis was triggered by false news, the Supreme Court concluded that the migration was “triggered by panic created by fake news that the lock down would continue for more than three months.”

The apex court, on the day, passed an order asking print, electronic and social media to refer to and publish the official version about developments pertaining to the pandemic.