[WSMDiscuss] Fwd: Govt must immediately implement Supreme Court Order to alleviate Migrant Workers Distress (National Alliance of People’s Movements) / Supreme Court Deserves an 'F' Grade For Its Handling of Migrants (Justice Madan B Lokur (retired))

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Sat May 30 02:34:01 CEST 2020

Friday, May 29, 2020

Viruses in movement…, Justice in movement…, India in movement…

[Further to my earlier post on the Supreme Court of India finally – after a huge delay, dragged out over months, which has in itself been criminally tragic given the life and death issues that were involved - agreeing to hear a bunch of petitions about the urgent need for the State to step in to support the hundreds of thousands of the labouring poor who have been thrown out of work because of the lockdown, and have decided to return home to their villages, the Court finally heard the case yesterday [Thursday] and gave a sort of ruling. 

[Here, two somewhat different ‘reports’ on what has happened, so that the judgement can be more critically understood for what it really is.  First, a post today by the National Alliance of People’s Movements (one of the founders of which, Medha Patkar, was one of the petitioners), perhaps understandably taking a ‘positive’ approach to whatever positive has come out of the case, and demanding urgent implementation of the Court’s order; and second, a searing discussion, by a now-retired Justice of the same Court, shaming the Court for how it has treated the case and the weak, classist, casteist, and elitist – and uncaring - ruling that it has handed down… :

One thing is clear – the migrant workers, women (some of them pregnant), children and infants will remember these dark days till the very end. Images that have haunted us for two months and the horrific struggles of millions will remain etched in our psyche and many will long remember that when it came to the crunch, the Supreme Court did not see those images or read those stories. Over the past few months, constitutional rights and remedies were overlooked and socio-economic justice, a cornerstone in the preamble of our constitution, was disregarded. Some eminent members of the legal fraternity have already expressed dissatisfaction <https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-migrant-workers-lawyers-letter> with the present-day functioning of the Supreme Court. Isn’t that tragic or is it farcical?

The facts speak for themselves. Can the court redeem itself and reimage its brand as a court for the people of India and not of the people of India? By addressing the plight of the migrant workers suo motu, as the court has now done, will the situation on the ground change? Will the Supreme Court change? You be the judge.

[The text of the Order given by the Supreme Court of India is attached, as posted by the NAPM :

Govt must immediately implement Supreme Court Order to alleviate Migrant Workers’ Distress

National Alliance of People’s Movements

Supreme Court Deserves an 'F' Grade For Its Handling of Migrants

Justice Madan B Lokur (retired)

            What can one say ?



> Begin forwarded message:
> From: napm india <napmindia at gmail.com>
> Subject: Govt must immediately implement SC Order to alleviate Migrant Workers Distress
> Date: May 29, 2020 at 12:14:46 AM EDT
> To: undisclosed-recipients:;
> Reply-To: napmindia at gmail.com

National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM)  
National Office: 6/6,Jangpura B, New Delhi – 110 014
E-mail:napmindia <mailto:napmindia at gmail.om>@gmail.com <mailto:napmindia at gmail.om> | Web:www.napm-india.org <http://www.napm-india.org/>

(हिंदी प्रेस नोट के लिए नीचे देखे)

People’s Movements approach Supreme Court: 
Interim Orders Issued on Migrant Workers Return: 
SC Directs Simplified & Time-bound Registration Process, No Collection of Travel Fare from Workers and 
Food, Water & Other facilities by Government 
NAPM calls for immediate implementation of the Order to address the massive distress of Migrant Workers 
29th May, 2020: The Hon'ble Supreme Court heard the issues related to the migrant workers yesterday.  Along with the matters taken up suo moto, many interventions as well as the petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution by Ms. Medha Patkar and few other social activists of National Alliance of People's Movements, was also heard.  The petitioners represent various mass organizations and have been helping the impoverished workers and marginalized people & communities in many parts of the country since the very beginning of the lockdown in the month of March. 
The Court issued interim directions after hearing the Solicitor General, counsel for states as well as counsels for various parties and interveners. 
Some of the key operative aspects of the Order of the Apex Court are: 
ü Free travel for all migrant workers. The cost is to be borne by the States.
ü Stranded migrant workers will be provided free food by the states in which they are stranded.
ü Food and water must be provided to those in transit, both in buses and trains. The States or the Railways must bear this cost.
ü States must simplify and speed up the process of registration of migrant workers and set up a helpdesk for the same.
ü Information about modes of transport should be fully publicized and migrants should be put on a train/bus at the earliest.
ü Food, water and transport should be provided for those walking on roads/highways immediately by the concerned States/UTs.
ü The receiving state must provide transport, health screenings and other facilities to returning migrants free of cost.
The Apex Court also agreed to hear other connected matters, including the issue of effect of Covid lockdown on poor and migrant workers, after they reach their destination, following the replies to be filed by the Union and the states, within a week from today. 
Along with NAPM, some of the sangathans that approached the court in WP No. 11394 / 2020 and have been involved in relief and support work to migrants include Narmada Bachao Andolan (MP), Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (Bihar), Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (Mumbai), Aman Ki Pehel (Delhi & Haryana), National Domestic Workers Union (Delhi), National Campaign Committee for Rural Workers and Maharashtra Rajya Hamal Mapadi Maha Mandal. The Supreme Court issued notice in this Petition and tagged it along with the suo motu matter. The Court also took note of the suggestions made in Paras 18&19 of the Petition. 
Sr. Adv. Mr. Sanjay Parikh, Sr. Advocate assisted by Mr. Abhimanue Shrestha, AOR appeared in the Petition filed by Ms. Medha Patkar & other social activists. Many other senior counsels including Adv Indira Jaising, Adv. Kapil Sibal, Adv. Colin Gonsalves, Adv. Abhishek Manu Singhvi etc also appeared and brought important matters to the attention of the court. 
Although late in the day, NAPM welcomes the interim directions passed by the Apex court and expects that the Central and the State Governments will execute the orders with immediate effect. 
NAPM demands that the Centre should also share the financial burden with the States since the impacts of the unplanned lock down have been imposed by the Centre and are being borne disproportionately by States and the migrant workers. 
We look forward to substantive developments in the case on the next date of hearing to be held on 5th June, 2020. 
Mahendra Yadav, Anand Mazgaonkar, Sanjay M.G, Suniti.S.R, Arundhati Dhuru, Meera Sanghamitra.
National Alliance of People’s Movements
Contact for information: 9174181216 / 9423571784 or E-mail: napmindia at gmail.com <mailto:napmindia at gmail.com> 

Order of the Apex Court dt. 28th May, 2020 attached. 


प्रवासी श्रमिकों के वापसी पर  जन आन्दोलनों की याचिका:
सर्वोच्च अदालत के अंतरिम आदेश
सरल और समयबद्ध पंजीकरण, नि:शुल्क प्रवास और 
भोजन, पानी आदि सुविधा की ज़िम्मेदारी सरकार की
श्रमिकों के संकट दूर करने के लिए इन आदेशों का तत्काल अमल ज़रूरी
·      पैदल चलने से रोककर उपलब्ध करे वाहन।

·      प्रवासी मजदूरों को भोजन, पानी, वाहन व्यव्स्था मुफ़्तमें उपलब्ध करे राज्यशासन।

·      सरलीकरण से रजिस्ट्रेशन और त्वरित वाहन/ रेल सफ़रमें केंद्रसे भोजन-पानी।

·      अगली सुनवाई 5 जून को, केंद्र और राज्यसरकारोंसे विस्तृत जवाब के बाद।

29 मई, 2020: सर्वोच्च न्यायालय के न्या. अशोक भूषण, न्या. संजय किशन कौल, न्या. एम. आर. शाह के खंडपीठने आज स्थलांतरित मजदूरोंकी सवालोंपर सुनवायी की। स्थलांतरित मजदूरों के जीने के अधिकार पर हमला है, इस दावे के साथ संविधान के अनुच्छेद 32 के तहत ’जनआंदलनोंके राष्ट्रीय समन्वय’ के समन्वयक मेधा पाटकर और आशीष रंजन (बिहार), सुनीता रानी (दिल्ली), विमल भाई, बिलाल खान (मुंबई) की ओरसे प्रस्तुत याचिका को, अन्य याचिकाओंके साथ सर्वोच्च अदालत ने  suo moto ली गई उनकी याचिका के साथ जोड दिया। जनआंदोलनों की ओरसे वरिष्ठ अधिवक्ता ॲड. संजय पारीखजी ने पैरवी की। उनके अलावा ॲड्. कपिल सिबल, ॲड्. अभिषेक मनू सिंघवी और ॲड्. कोलिन गोन्साल्विस ने भी बात रखी।
स्थलांतरित मजदूरोंके लॉकडाउन के चलते वापसी की यात्रा, उसमें भुगत रहे अन्याय और अत्याचार, उनका रजिस्ट्रेशन, उनके भोजन, पानी, निवारा की व्यवस्था तथा गाव/घर वापस लौटने के बाद उनकी भूखमरी, कुपोषण, बेरोजगारी के मुद्दोंपर शासनकर्ताओंकी जिम्मेदारी एवम्‍ सर्वोच्च अदालत की ओरसे निगरानी संबंधी यह विशेष याचिका 20.05.2020  को प्रस्तुत की गयी। उसके कुछ दिन बाद ही सर्वोच्च अदालतने स्वयं इस ‍मुद्देकी दखल लेते हुए केंद्रशासन तथा सभी राज्य सरकारोंको नोटीस पारित  करके जवाब प्रस्तुत करने कहा। केंद्र शासन से आज तक जवाबी हलफ़नामा प्रस्तुत नहीं किया और आज भी अगली तारीख याने कुछ दिनोंकी मोहल्लत मांग ली।
लेकिन अदालतने आज की सुनवाई के बाद (para 18, 19 of diary no. 113944/2020) याचिकाओं में दी जानकारी, विश्लेषण और सुझाव जो अधिवक्ता पारीखजी ने प्रस्तुत किये, उनकी विशेष दखल लेते हुए निम्नलिखित अंतरीम निर्देश दिए हैं:
1. प्रवासी मजदूरोंका वापसी के लिए रजिस्ट्रीकरण वे जहाँ हैं, वही विशेष केंद्र स्थापित करके किया जाए।
2.  प्रवासी मजदूरों की रेल या बससे सफ़र पूर्णतः मुफ़्त होनी चाहिए। राज्य सरकारोंने उसका पूरा खर्च उठाना होगा।
3. प्रवासी मजदूरोंको वे जहाँ अटके हैं, वही मुफ़्त भोजन राज्य सरकारोंने तथा राष्ट्रपति शासनने उपलब्ध करना चाहिए।
4. रेलसे सफ़र करनेवाले प्रवासी मजदूरों को रेल में चढने के पूर्व राज्य शासनसे भोजन, पानी उपलब्ध करना होगा तथा रेलके दौरान केंद्रीय रेल मंत्रालय उन्हें खाना, पानी उपलब्ध करे। बससे सफ़र करते वक्त भी यही सुविधा उपलब्ध की जाए जो कि बसमें या रास्तोंमें थांबेपर रूककर दी जाए।
5. राज्य शासनने प्रवासी मजदूरोंके रजिस्ट्रेशनकी प्रक्रिया गतिमान व सरल हो और उसके लिए ’हेल्पडेस्क’ उन्ही जगहपर उपलब्ध किया जाए, जहाँ मजदूर रूके है।
6. शासनने हर प्रकारके प्रयाससे यह देखना जरूरी है कि रजिस्ट्रेशन के बाद श्रमिकोंको जल्द से जल्द रेल या बस उपलब्ध की जाए और उसके सफ़रके साधन संबंधमें पूरी जानकारी सभी संबंधितोंको प्राप्त हो।
7. सुप्रीम कोर्टने यह भी आदेश दिया है कि जो प्रवासी मजदूर हायवे या रास्तेपर पैदल चलते हुए पाए जाएंगे, उन्हें तत्काल राज्य शासन/ राष्ट्रपति शासन हर सेवा उपलब्ध करे और उन्हें उनके गन्तव्य तक पहुंचाने के लिए वाहन व्यव्स्था त्वरित उपलब्ध की जाए। रास्तेपर पाये सभी श्रमिकोंको भोजन, पानी की सुविधा उपलब्ध की जाए।
8. उनके अपने राज्यों में पहुंचनेपर हर श्रमिकको सफ़र के लिए वाहन, स्वास्थ की जाँच व अन्य सुविधाएँ मुफ़्तमें उपलब्ध की जाए। 
     आजतक समाजिक संगठनों, संस्थाओंने, कार्यकर्ता समूहोंने उठाए मुद्दों की दखल उच्चतम न्यायालय ने ली है। इन निर्देशोंका स्वागत करते हुए जनआंदोलनोंका राष्ट्रीय समन्वय आग्रहसे अपेक्षा करता है कि केंद्र तथा राज्य सरकार उपरोक्त आदेशोंका पूर्ण पालन करे। इस अनियोजित लॉक डाऊन के लिये जिम्मेदार केंद्र सरकार भी उसकी वजह से राज्य सरकार भुगत रहे आर्थिक बोझ का कुछ जिम्मा उठाये ऐसी हमारी मांग है। 
अगली सुनवाई 5 जून 2020 को होगी। उच्चतम न्यायालय का आदेश संलग्न है।
अधिक जानकारी के लिये संपर्क – 9174181216/9423571784 या ई-मेल: napmindia at gmail.com <mailto:napmindia at gmail.com>
महेंद्र यादव, आनंद माझगांवकर, संजय मं.गो., सुनीती सु.र. और साथी
जन आंदोलनों का राष्ट्रीय समन्वय

National Alliance of People’s Movements
National Office : 6/6, Jangpura B, Mathura Road, New Delhi 110014
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Supreme Court Deserves an 'F' Grade For Its Handling of Migrants

After humanitarian law died a million deaths, the Supreme Court finally took suo motu cognizance of the plight of the workers forced to set out for distant rural homes because of the lockdown

Madan B Lokur, Opinion, The Wire, May 28, 2020 

https://thewire.in/law/after-humanitarian-law-died-a-million-deaths-the-supreme-court-has-finally-stirred-itself <https://thewire.in/law/after-humanitarian-law-died-a-million-deaths-the-supreme-court-has-finally-stirred-itself>

News has come in that on May 26, 2020 the Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance <https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-migrants-suo-motu-centre> of the problems and miseries of migrant labourers stranded in different parts of the country.

While taking cognizance, reference was made to newspaper and media reports of the

“unfortunate and miserable conditions of migrant labourers walking on-foot and cycles from long distances. They have also been complaining of not being provided food and water by the administration at places where they were stranded or in the way i.e. highways from which they proceeded on-foot, cycles or other modes of transport.”

Will some good come out of this? Better late than never? Is it a face-saving attempt to atone for past follies? Is it an indictment of the state that has dealt (or not dealt) with the tragedy? You be the judge.

The first among many petitions pertaining to the migrants was filed by Alakh Alok Srivastava, a practicing lawyer.  The petition was in public interest and the Supreme Court recorded in its order of March 31, 2020 <https://indiankanoon.org/doc/129422211/> that it “highlighted the plight of thousands of migrant labourers who, along with their families, were walking hundreds of kilometres from their work-place to their villages/towns.”

By way of an example, the averment in the petition was noted to the effect that thousands of migrant labourers left Delhi to reach their homes in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, by walking on the highways. The petitioner’s concern pertained to their welfare and a direction was sought to the authorities “to shift the migrant labourers to government shelter homes/accommodations and provide them with basic amenities like food, clean drinking water, medicines, etc.”

On the request of the solicitor general, the court took on record a status report of March 31 and noted that it dealt with steps taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus, measures taken by the Central government in providing basic amenities like food, clean drinking water, medicines etc. to the ‘lower strata’ of society. A reference is also made to a relief package under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana and other schemes to ensure that persons in need are taken care of.

The report recorded that the initial reaction of the state governments and Union territories to the thousands of migrant labourers leaving Delhi was to transport them from their borders to their villages. But, on March 29, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a circular <https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/MHA%20Order%20restricting%20movement%20of%20migrants%20and%20strict%20enforement%20of%20lockdown%20measures%20-%2029.03.2020_0.pdf> “prohibiting movement as transportation of migrant labourers in overcrowded buses would cause more damage than help to the migrant labourers. The very idea of lock down was to ensure that the virus would not spread. It was felt that transportation of migrant labourers would aggravate the problem of spread of the virus.”

Also Read: Migrant Worker Crisis: The Supreme Court Has Abdicated All Responsibility <https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-migrant-workers-crisis-abdicate-responsibility>
The circular worked like a magic wand and abracadabra, the solicitor general stated that as per information received by the control room more than 21,000 relief camps had been set up in which more 6.5 lakh persons (migrant labour) had been provided shelter and more than 22.8 lakh persons had been provided food and other basic amenities like medicines, drinking water, etc. He further stated on instructions that as at 11.00 am <https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-migrant-workers-crisis-abdicate-responsibility> “there is no person walking on the roads in an attempt to reach his/her home towns/villages.”

What triggered the migration? According to the status report, panic was caused by fake news that the lockdown would last for more than three months. So, the migrant labourers chose to believe fake news rather than the hon’ble prime minister who had announced, a few days earlier, only a three week lockdown. Fake news had circulated despite an advisory by the Government of India on March 24 to the authorities to effectively deal with rumour mongering. Obviously, the authorities failed in the discharge of their duty. Therefore, the court expected all concerned to “faithfully comply with the directives, advisories and orders issued by the Union of India in letter and spirit in the interest of public safety.” As far as the media was concerned, the court expected the print, electronic and social media <https://thewire.in/law/coronavirus-v-free-speech-modi-government-opens-new-battlefront-in-supreme-court> to “maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated.” Scapegoating had started.

Additionally, the court recorded the statement of the solicitor general that “within 24 hours the Central government will ensure that trained counsellors and/or community group leaders belonging to all faiths will visit the relief camps/shelter homes and deal with any consternation that the migrants might be going through. This shall be done in all the relief camps/shelter homes wherever they are located in the country.”

Two features clearly stand out. First, the Supreme Court accepted what it was told – hook, line and sinker. True, there was nothing on March 31 to doubt the correctness of the statement that no person was walking on the roads at 11.00 am but is the court so naïve as to seriously believe such a statement? Is the court also naïve enough to believe that a circular issued by the Central government could work wonders and ensure that a few lakh persons (not thousands) actually stayed off the roads? If a statutory order issued by the National Disaster Management Authority and the Ministry of Home Affairs acting in exercise of powers conferred by the Disaster Management Act could not ensure the implementation of a complete lockdown, could a mere circular prevent migrants from hitting the road? Really?

Also Read: How Nepal’s Supreme Court Upheld Dignity of Migrant Workers Without Diluting COVID Fight <https://thewire.in/law/nepal-supreme-court-migrant-workers>
Subsequent hearings in the case on April 3 and 7 confirm that as on March 31, the Supreme Court did not even bother to question the statement made or hold the Central government to account, despite more than enough evidence available everywhere. Newspaper and media reports were ignored.

Second, did the Central government fulfil its commitment that “trained counsellors” would visit the camps and deal with the “consternation of the migrants”? Even this was not questioned by the court during the hearings on April 3 and 7. This is very important since the court was aware that “panic can severely affect mental health. We are informed that the Union of India is conscious of the importance of mental health and the need to calm down those who are in a state of panic.”

Given the circumstances, was it not the constitutional obligation, not duty, of the Supreme Court – a court for the people of India and not a court of the people of India – to ascertain that a few lakhs (not thousands) of migrants are well taken care of, physically and emotionally? It is not that the court was expected to disbelieve or distrust the establishment represented by no less than the solicitor general, the court was only required to ensure through the principle of continuing mandamus that the solemn assurances given to it are faithfully carried out. Sorry, the court completely failed in this – forgot what public interest litigation is all about. If a grading is to be given, it deserves an F.

True, the events were unprecedented as far as the government is concerned, but the events were also unprecedented as far as the migrants are concerned. Unfortunately, the lack of interest and compassion shown by the court was also unprecedented. Here was an opportunity handed over on a platter to the court to be more proactive and assertive keeping the interest and constitutional rights of the hapless people in mind.

The initial failure of March 31 and in two subsequent hearings was compounded in the final hearing on April 27, when the Court passed a rather tepid order to the effect that the solicitor general had agreed that the interim directions passed on March 31 would be continued [actually no interim directions had been passed] and the suggestions made would be examined and appropriate action taken. On this basis, the petition was disposed of. On that day, humanitarian law died a million deaths.

Also Read: The Supreme Court Is Locked Down and Justice Is in ‘Emergency’ Care <https://thewire.in/law/lockdown-supreme-court-justice>
Surely, but surely, the court could not have been oblivious to the continuing migration to rural areas during this period in April. If the court was aware of the migrant crisis (as it should and must have been) why did it not act? Did the court feel helpless and if so, why? Leaving the migrants – men, women, children and infants to their uncertain fate was certainly not a policy decision that necessitated a hands-off attitude from the court; and if it was a policy decision, it was a perverse policy decision that should have been set aside in less than a minute.

What could the court have done? Public interest litigation is all about public interest. Well-meaning persons approach the Supreme Court for the enforcement of constitutional and statutory rights of those who have no access to justice. This is precisely what the petitioner (and others) did. The Supreme Court was approached on behalf of migrant labourers on the road for a do-something direction. Sadly, the court let them down, badly. The court could have asked pointed questions to the state. It could have asked if the Central government had a plan of action for the “unforeseen development” (an expression used in the status report); it could have asked for the steps taken and proposed to be taken to mitigate the hardships that the migrants faced; it could have asked if the state governments were geared up for the massive influx of migrants whose presence “would aggravate the problem of spread of the virus.” Issues of socio-economic justice and constitutional rights are vital and raise a whole host of questions, but not one was asked in a public interest litigation, and the issue buried ten fathoms deep. If any event ever shook the collective conscience of the nation, the travails of the migrant labourers did.

Why do I say that the court could not have been unaware of the migrant labourers issue? A second petition filed by Harsh Mander and Anjali Bhardwaj <https://thewire.in/law/lockdown-supreme-court-justice> came up before the Supreme Court on April 3. They had asked for a direction to the Central government and state governments to ensure payment of wages/minimum wages to all migrant workers within a week.  It was contended that despite governmental measures, thousands of labourers still lack access to basic facilities, and that studies conducted by NGOs indicate that there are several areas where the aid is not reaching the migrant workers.

On April 7, a status report was presented to the court on behalf of the state. Annexure B to this report gave some startling figures. The status report of March 31 stated that there were 21,604 relief camps and 6,66,291 persons had been provided shelter while 22,88,279 persons had been provided food. As per the report of April 7, the number of relief camps and shelters (including those of NGOs) had gone up to 26,476; shelter had been provided to 10,37,027 persons and food provided to 84,26,509. In addition, 15,05,107 workers were said to have been given shelter and food by employers/industry where they were working. Given this massive increase in numbers within a week, how could the court be unaware of the problem facing the country and how could the court not do anything about it? It seems to me that after the migrant workers, empathy and compassion were the next casualties.

The status report goes on to debunk newspaper reports by stating: “The petition as well as further Affidavit filed is bereft of any facts and is based on some newspaper reports.” The newspaper reports that the Supreme Court has now referred to are also not worthy of credence? The status report trashes the studies relied on by the petitioners by not even bothering to refer to them. Unfortunately, nor does the Supreme Court.

And then what happened? The petition filed by these two social activists was adjourned to April 21, and the following order passed: “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.” Excuse me? What about payment of wages? Executivization of constitutional justice?

Also Read: Feel a Little Shame for the Lost Soul of the Nation <https://thewire.in/labour/feel-a-little-shame-for-the-lost-soul-of-the-nation>
The status report points out, interestingly, that “when the country is facing such unprecedented crisis, filing of such petitions and attempting to sit in appeal over all actions taken by the respective governments by few individual needs to be discouraged as it diverts energy and attention of the statutory functionaries which ought to have been utilised to its optimum in discharging their duties on ground.” The Supreme Court can very well be similarly told at the next hearing in the suo motu proceedings – don’t interfere since you are diverting our energy and attention and effectively preventing us from utilising them from discharging our duties on the ground.

A third opportunity came the way of the Supreme Court when Jagdeep Chhokar filed a petition <https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-migrant-workers-crisis-abdicate-responsibility> for a direction to the Government of India to allow migrant workers across the country to return to their hometowns and villages after conducting necessary testing for COVID-19 and to arrange for their safe travel by providing necessary transportation to this effect.

It was noted by the court on May 5 that an order of the government issued on April 29 allowed movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists and students stranded at different places. All state and Union territory governments were required to designate nodal authorities and develop standard protocols for receiving and sending such stranded persons. “The main relief which was sought in the writ petition, thus, stood substantially satisfied by the aforesaid order.” QED. Shouldn’t questions of this nature have been asked on March 31? Any follow-up steps?

The court also noted <https://thewire.in/law/suprem-court-petition-migrant-workers-train-travel> that on May 1, an order was issued by the Ministry of Railways to run “Shramik Special” trains to move migrant workers, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places due to lock down. A grievance was made by Prashant Bhushan appearing for the petitioner that the migrants were required to pay 15% of the fare, which they could not afford. Remember, the court had earlier declined to pass any order for payment of wages to the migrant labour. What was the answer now? “Insofar as charging of 15% of Railway tickets’ amount from workers, it is not for this court to issue any order under Article 32 regarding the same, it is the concerned State/Railways to take necessary steps under the relevant guidelines.” The petition stands disposed of.

One thing is clear – the migrant workers, women (some of them pregnant), children and infants will remember these dark days till the very end. Images that have haunted us for two months and the horrific struggles of millions will remain etched in our psyche and many will long remember that when it came to the crunch, the Supreme Court did not see those images or read those stories. Over the past few months, constitutional rights and remedies were overlooked and socio-economic justice, a cornerstone in the preamble of our constitution, was disregarded. Some eminent members of the legal fraternity have already expressed dissatisfaction <https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-migrant-workers-lawyers-letter> with the present-day functioning of the Supreme Court. Isn’t that tragic or is it farcical?

The facts speak for themselves. Can the court redeem itself and reimage its brand as a court for the people of India and not of the people of India? By addressing the plight of the migrant workers suo motu, as the court has now done, will the situation on the ground change? Will the Supreme Court change? You be the judge.

Madan B. Lokur <https://thewire.in/author/madan-b-lokur> is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India


Jai Sen

Independent researcher, editor; Senior Fellow at the School of International Development and Globalisation Studies at the University of Ottawa

jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
Now based in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325) and in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded and unsurrendered Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900) 

CURRENT / RECENT publications :

Jai Sen, ed, 2018a – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance. Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2018b – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ? (Indian edition). New Delhi : AuthorsUpfront, in collaboration with OpenWord and PM Press.  Hard copy available at MOM1AmazonIN <https://www.amazon.in/dp/9387280101/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1522884070&sr=8-2&keywords=movements+of+movements+jai+sen>, MOM1Flipkart <https://www.flipkart.com/the-movements-of-movements/p/itmf3zg7h79ecpgj?pid=9789387280106&lid=LSTBOK9789387280106NBA1CH&marketplace=FLIPKART&srno=s_1_1&otracker=search&fm=SEARCH&iid=ff35b702-e6a8-4423-b014-16c84f6f0092.9789387280106.SEARCH&ppt=Search%20Page>, and MOM1AUpFront <http://www.authorsupfront.com/movements.htm>
Jai Sen, ed, 2017 – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?.  New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press.  Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
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