Take steps to resolve migrant workers’ issues raised by activist Harsh Mander: Supreme Court

Daily wage labourers migrate to their hometown by walk, in Vijayawada.   | Photo Credit: V. Raju

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to take steps as it deems fit to resolve “issues” raised by activist Harsh Mander concerning migrant workers, which include lack of basic amenities and payment of minimum wages.


A Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana observed in a two-page order that “taking into consideration the material placed before us, we call upon the respondent, Union of India, to look into such material and take such steps as it finds fit to resolve the issues raised in the petition [by Mr. Mander].”

The petition, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, had sought the Centre and the States to jointly and severally ensure payments of wages/minimum wages to migrant workers within a week.

‘No basic amenities’

Mr. Bhushan, in the hearing held through videoconferencing, submitted that despite governmental measures, thousands of labourers still lack access to basic amenities.


He further argued that studies conducted by NGOs indicate that there were several areas where the aid was not reaching to migrant workers.

On the contrary, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta referred to a status report filed by the Union Home Ministry to submit that measures were in place to address the issues concerning migrant workers. He said helpline numbers had been provided to report issues concerning the implementation at the ground level.

He submitted that the authorities will address the issues immediately in case a complaint is made on the helpline.

At one point, Mr. Mehta asked why the petitioners, instead of filing petitions, are not helping to better the conditions of the workers.

Mr. Bhushan replied that the petitioner has already volunteered and helped, but cannot be expected to feed 15 lakh people. He quoted from a study to say 89% of the surveyed people have not received payments since the lockdown was imposed.

Direct benefit transfer

But Mr. Mehta questioned the credibility of the study and said direct benefit transfer schemes were already in place. He said migrant labourers in shelters were given food and ₹500 per month has been transferred to crores of women having Jan Dhan accounts.

Mr. Mander, in a recent response to the Ministry’s report, had accused the Centre of being slow to absorb the scale of the COVID-19 lockdown on the frayed lives of the country’s poor.

The Ministry report had stated that the Centre and State governments were “doing their best strategising human resources and other resources to come out of this unprecedented global crisis.” But Mr. Mander and fellow activist Anjali Bhardwaj had countered that statistics from the same report give a different picture. At the most, the MHA report only showed wide regional variations and overall inadequacy in relief work for the displaced poor, they had argued.


The petition had argued that the first declaration of the national lockdown without prior information “precipitated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis” for migrant workers, resulting in their mass exodus to their hometowns.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 3:04:05 AM |

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