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WHILE SUPREME COURT FAILED, HIGH COURTS IN ACTION TO PROTECT MIGRANT WORKERS

May 19, 2020 04:38 PM

Sanjay Kumar Mishra

Supreme Court is not working for the benefit of Aam Aadmi but working for the benefit of the Government and VIP's.  When a petition filled in Supreme Court by Sr. Advocate Prashant Bhushan to protect rights of migrant workers, The Supreme Court has unquestioningly accepted the Centre’s submissions that stranded workers are being well cared for.

  Supreme Court and migrant workers :

In 1952, Supreme Court said the Constitution had assigned it the responsibility of guarding against violations of fundamental rights the way a sentinel protects a fort, but after around 58 years later, the sentinel seems to be letting its guard down.

During present nationwide lockdown in India, lakhs of migrant workers, their livelihoods devastated. They are walking hundreds of kilometers in an attempt to get back to their home villages. Approximately 120 of them have died in accidents along the way.

It's very strange that While Centre mounted a massive mission “Vande Bharat” to bring back Indians from overseas, it has not shown the same zeal to get poor workers back to their home, Instead, Centre put the blame on the states.

During Congress ruling and post-Emergency era, the Supreme Court developed the idea of public interest litigation (PIL) and the Supreme and High court became an activist to protect an issues that involved the public good. After this changes, many Indians have looked up to the Supreme Court to check state excesses when it violates rights, and also as a powerful institution that will nudge the government to do the right thing.

In the recent times, several activists and lawyers have approached the Supreme Court with PIL urging the court to act as the sentinel of the rights of the migrant workers. But supreme court fared it very poorly, accepting the government’s submissions mechanically & not doing much to alleviate the sufferings of the migrant workers. Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan however criticized this but nothing happened.

On March 31, 2020 Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed supreme court that there were no migrant workers on the roads anymore as governments had ensured that they were being housed and fed. The court accepted this submission and another too by which the Centre said - fake news had led to the workers’ exod. These submissions were false by the fact that lakhs have continued to walk home since March 31.

Supreme court should have suo motu revived the PIL and should questioned the Centre on its submissions but this is not happens. So many PILs have filled in Supreme Court but each facing a similar fate.

Again On April 21, the supreme court accepted the Centre’s submissions and passed an order without considering material produced by the petitioners about the dire situation of migrant workers. The court did not even seek a status report about the measures to be adopted following the petition. In conontrast, the court on May 11 decided to monitor the beautification of a palace garden in Rajasthan, as reported by scroll.in epaper.

On May 15, when another PIL on the workers’ came up for hearing, the court observed that it was impossible for courts to monitor or stop the movement of migrant workers across the country. It is the government who take necessary action in this regard. 

When Supreme Court fail, High Courts are in action to protect the rights of migrant workers. 

When Supreme Court failed, High Courts have acknowledged the seriousness of the migrant worker crisis and were marked by empathy for their plight.

Madras High Court issued an order laced with emotion, a bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and R Hemalatha said:

“One cannot control his/her tears after seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers shown in the media for the past one month. It is nothing but a human tragedy.

It is very unfortunate that those persons were neglected by all the authorities. The heart breaking stories are reported in the print as well as visual media that millions of workers were compelled to start walking to their native States with their little children carrying all their belongings over their head, surviving on the food provided by good Samaritans, as no steps were taken by the Governments to help those migrant workers.

..it is a pity to see the migrant labourers walking for days together to reach their native places and in the process, some of them had lost their lives due to accidents. The Government authorities of all the States should have extended their human services to those migrant labourers.”

The High court asked the state and the Central governments 12 questions about the measures taken to help the workers and to file a status report by May 22.

Andhra Pradesh High Court cited - disturbing news reports to order the state government to take specific measures under seven different heads, including medical, transportation and food. The court began the order thus:

“This court notices that the labour who have left their ancestral homes and villages and moved to the cities for better livelihood to ensure that all of us live in comfort are on the roads today.

If at this stage this court does not react and pass these orders, this court would be failing in its role as a protector and alleviator of suffering.”

In addition to above, the Karnataka High Court on May 12 directed the state governments to decide on paying the transportation cost of workers going back to their villages and towns. It reminded the governments of the huge contribution the workers have made to the country’s development, insisting that the executive should come forward to help them at a time when they have lost their livelihoods.

Gujarat High Court also took up the workers’ cause suo motu and sought the response of the governments. (Source : scroll Plus)

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