Migrant workers returning to cities to reclaim jobs, Solicitor General tells Supreme Court

Economy is opening up and situation is healthy, he says

Updated - July 09, 2020 01:36 pm IST

Published - July 09, 2020 01:26 pm IST - NEW DELHI

With a hope: Construction workers waiting for work at Benz Circle in Vijayawada.

With a hope: Construction workers waiting for work at Benz Circle in Vijayawada.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Thursday told the Supreme Court that migrant workers were returning to cities to reclaim their old jobs as “lockdown is over”, “economy is opening up” and the situation is turning “very healthy”.

Mr. Mehta, who was appearing for the Maharashtra government, was expressing his view on what the Bihar government called the “reverse migration” of migrant workers who had gone home to their villages during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, for Bihar, said trains from Patna were running full. “Reverse migration is happening. Now the workers are going back to their own jobs. Trains are full from Patna,” the Bihar government said.

At this point, Mr. Mehta said, “What I feel about this is migrant workers who had gone back to their States are not getting jobs fit for their skills. A carpenter might not want to work as an agricultural labourer...”

“Now, economy is opening up, lockdown is over. Very healthy (atmosphere), so they are coming back,” the Solicitor General opined to a three-judge Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan.

During the hearing, the court pulled up Maharashtra for taking an “adversarial” approach in its affidavit.

The Supreme Court, referring to Maharashtra’s affidavit, said it could not accept a general statement from the State that all migrants had been provided for.

Justice Bhushan said it was the obligation of the State to identify migrant workers in need and those who still wanted to go home. The court asked the State to file a fresh and detailed affidavit.

“Migrant labourers are forced to proceed to their native place after cessation of their employment. They are already suffering. They have to be dealt by the police and other authorities in a humane manner,” the court had observed in a June 9 order.

The court had passed the order after suo motu taking cognisance of the migrant workers’ exodus.

The Bench had squarely placed the onus on the Centre, the States and Union Territories to provide details of employment and benefits schemes to returned migrant workers. It had directed that counselling centres should be set up to reach out to them and explain the various schemes framed for their rehabilitation and employment.

The States and Union Territories were directed to conduct extensive skill-mapping of returned workers at village and block levels. Counselling centres should freely provide information and even “extend a helping hand” to those workers who wanted to return to their places of past employment, the court had ordered.

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