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SC denies relief in plea for migrant workers says it cannot run government

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The Supreme Court on Monday took up the PIL for hearing the plight of payment of wages to MGNREGA & migrant workers amid lockdown due to COVID- 19 pandemic.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan appearing for the petitioners Harsh Mander & Anjali Bhardwaj referred to the affidavit filed by Centre on issues of migrant workers and said according to the Government 15 lakh workers are being given shelter and food, but there is a need for govt to recognise necessity of payment of wages, specifically to those who are jobless

The case was heard by the division bench comprising CJI S.A. Bobde, Justice L. Nageswara Rao & Justice M.M. Shantanagoudar who made inquires about the steps taken by the Centre as regards payment of wages to migrant workers and workers employed by private companies.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta referred to reports and documents to show the amount of money transferred to the accounts of beneficiaries through direct benefit transfer.

Justice L Nageswara Rao asked Tushar Mehta about steps taken to provide income to workers rendered jobless now, however appreciated the work done by the Centre to provide shelter and food.

SG Mehta told the Court that the Centre took steps on issues that needed immediate action first. CJI SA Bobde asked if there is any possibility of reopening industries soon

The Court observed that the documents relied by the government were not filed and thus agreed to adjourn the matter till next Monday. Advocate Prashant Bhushan said 4 crore people are in distress, submits matter should not be adjourned to next week. Court replied that it cannot pass orders in the absence of documents referred to.

Earlier, the petitioners filed rejoinder affidavit to the affidavit file by the Central government as a reply to the PIL. The petitioners in the rejoinder stated that the government reply gives no information about payment of minimum wages to migrant workers. Further, the reply gives no information regarding compliance with the March 29 order of the Ministry of Home Affairs on restricting movement of migrants in so far as it directs all employers to make payment of usages to their workers, without any deduction for the period their establishments are under closure during the lockdown and directs landlords not to not charge rent for a period of one month to workers, including migrants.

Kerala alone accounts for 59% of the relief camps and shelters even though the state’s population constitutes only 2.6% of India’s population. In terms of number of persons housed in relief camps, Kerala and Maharashtra together account for 72% of the total. Large states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, which saw huge numbers of people moving back due to reverse  migration in light of the hardships caused by the lockdown together account for only 12% of the active Relief Camps and Shelters and persons housed. In terms of number of persons given food, two states- Haryana and Delhi account for 51% of the total showing the wide regional variation and the overall inadequacy of such facilities.

Justice L. Nageswara Rao observed that if the court passes directions as prayed in the PIL for payment of wages to migrant workers it has to start running the government.

The Court has adjourned the matter and now it will be heard on Monday 20th of April.

-India Legal Bureau

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