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Home / India News / Maharashtra’s response on migrants’ issue makes SC remind state of ‘duty’

Maharashtra’s response on migrants’ issue makes SC remind state of ‘duty’

The Supreme Court has set July 17 as the next date of hearing in the case of migrant workers.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2020 20:24 IST
Murali Krishnan  | Edited by Abhinav Sahay
Murali Krishnan | Edited by Abhinav Sahay
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Migrants had fled from cities in large numbers after the imposition of nationwide lockdown to fight coronavirus.
Migrants had fled from cities in large numbers after the imposition of nationwide lockdown to fight coronavirus.(REUTERS Photo/File/Representative use)

Government is duty bound to find out the problems faced by migrant workers and do the needful, the Supreme Court said on Thursday, taking exception to the Maharashtra government’s stance that there are no such migrants waiting to go back home and all their needs are being taken care of by the state.

A three-judge bench headed by justice Ashok Bhushan said that the claims made by the state cannot be accepted on face value, citing the applications filed on July 7 by two NGOs, Sarva Hara Jan Andolan and Delhi Sharmik Sangathan, setting out the difficulties faced by migrant workers in Maharashtra including details about people still attempting to return to their home states.

“We do not appreciate the tenor and the claims made in the affidavit filed on behalf of the state of Maharashtra. The present is not an adversarial litigation and it is the duty of the State to find shortcomings and lapses, wherever found, and to do the needful. The state cannot claim that unless the state is informed of the materials, it cannot reply or act”, the court said.

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The SC bench, which also comprised justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MR Shah, asked the Maharashtra government to file a fresh affidavit giving details about migrants who are still awaiting return to their hometowns.

The Maharashtra government had stated in its affidavit that none of the migrant workers left in the state were desirous of returning home since the resumption of economic activities provided them with employment opportunities.

“Ask Maharashtra to file a proper affidavit. Your (Maharashtra) affidavit is adversarial. This is not an adversarial case,” justice MR Shah told solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the Maharashtra government. The case will now be taken up on July 17.

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The case on migrant workers was initiated suo motu (on its own) by the top court on May 26, nearly two months after migrants’ exodus from cities began after clamping of a nationwide lockdown on March 25. The top court was initially reluctant to entertain petitions relating to the troubles faced by migrant workers.

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, who had lost their jobs due to the lockdown, made frantic efforts to reach their home towns and villages from metro cities. Scores of them had set out on foot, to cover thousands of kilometers, in a bid to reach their homes. Many perished in road and rail accidents on the way and some others died of heart attack.

In late April, the home ministry came up with a protocol to transport them by buses. Soon after, on May 1, the rail ministry announced special Shramik trains to carry them home. But the problems continued despite these measures, which eventually led to a suo motu case by the apex court.

The court, on May 28, ordered state and central governments to adopt a slew of measures to alleviate the sufferings of the migrant labourers. The measures included free travel to home states, making provision for food and water and registration of migrant workers who are waiting to return home.

During the hearing on Thursday, senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, representing the state of Bihar, pointed out that after the lockdown was lifted, the process of reverse migration had started with migrant labourers returning to the metros from their home states.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta had called it a healthy sign of reopening of the economy leading to job opportunities for migrant workers.

“In their home states, they were not getting work as per their skills. Now they are returning (to cities) after the economy is opening. It is a healthy (sign)”, he said.

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