Today, an intervention application filed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was allowed by the Supreme Court in its suomotu case concerning the plight of migrant workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The intervention plea was allowed by the three-Judge Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay KishanKaul, and MR Shah.
The Supreme Courtafter a long and detailed hearing which lasted for over an hour reserved its order and scheduled it to be delivered on June 9.
The NHRC gave a detailed application before the Supreme Court stating that the Commission took suomotu cognizance of the issue after perusing the media reports which highlighted the difficulties faced by migrant workers.
The application added that news reports became evident on the large-scale migration amid lockdown and that the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act of 1979 was never implemented “in its true spirit.” The Act was enacted to govern and regulate the employment of inter-state migrant workers and to provide for service conditions for them, among other things. However, the various instances that came to light showed that the Act was flawed in its implementation.
“The act requires that all establishments hiring inter-state migrants to be registered and contractors who recruit such workmen be licensed. Under the act migrant workers were entitled to wages similar to other workmen, displacement allowance, journey allowance and payment of wages during the period of journey for the migrant workers,” highlighted the application.
Thus, time bound measures were to be provided by the apex Court to NHRC ensuring that the basic human rights and fundamental rights of poor migrant workers are not violated.
The NHRC had sought for specific short term measures for migrant workers, given the return migration induced by the lockdown, by catering directions for States, employers and concerned authorities to ensure the safety and welfare of these workers during this pandemic.
The States should collect data on outgoing and incoming workers to effectively plan quarantine and isolation facilities and be incumbent upon the Centre and other State governments during that time to ensure proper implementation of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act to ensure that migrant workers are given a journey allowance, stated NHRC.
Proper medical and food facilities for pregnant women, lactating mothers, and infants as well as the menstrual hygiene of women and adolescent girls in shelter homes must be ensured by the States.
For the workers walking or cycling back home, food and water should be provided by the States at outgoing points as well as en route and also,medical facilities for migrants before, during, and after their journey should be ensured.
States should identify the industries in which these migrants were employed to facilitate in creating schemes for them so that a nation-wide database could be maintained and should also set up helplines for migrant workers, suggested the NHRC.
NHRC proposed ex-gratia reliefshould be provided by the concerned District Magistrates and a relief fund must be created for this purpose to benefit the incoming migrants.
When a worker starts a journey, the State from where s/he is going should provide some compensation if the worker be identified as destitute as it would prevent them from resorting to begging, stated the NHRC.
The NHRC stated that the delay and change in the route of Shramik special trains was also an issue and that,
“It is of concern that as per many reports 40 per cent of the Shramik trains are late, there is an average delay of 8 hours. Railways in consultation with the respective State Governments should ensure that such delays do not take place and the trains do not reach wrong destinations. A mission similar to that of the dedicated Vande Bharat Mission should be started in a phased manner to help migrant workers reach their source destination”
The NHRC included long term measures as:
- Introducing special provisions in the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 to deal with emergency situations like Covid-19, natural disasters etc.
- Appointment of a claim commissioner to look into recovery from employers who abandoned their labourers despite notification for continuity of wages by the Central Government.
- Allocation of funds to gram panchayats in order to create employment opportunities in the home states of migrants.
- A National portal for registration of migrants so that a nationwide database is created.
- Compensation to family members of those who died while migrating to their respective states.
- Universal ration card to be granted to migrants.
- A nodal agency that may be created under the Ministry of Labour for the resolution of inter-state migrant labour issues.
- A simpler registration process ensuring the understanding capability of the migrant workers.
Today, the application was filed through Advocate Mohit Paul and NHRC was represented by Senior Advocate BS Patil before the Supreme Court.
Read the petition here: