The Bombay High Court Wednesday asked the government to consider if migrant workers could be allowed to travel to their homes within Maharashtra, and if the state could first medically examine them to prevent any possible spread of coronavirus in rural areas, which are currently less affected by the pandemic.
A single-judge bench of Justice Ravi K Deshpande was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by NGOs, seeking various relief measures for migrant workers, slum dwellers and the homeless in the state.
The bench on Wednesday put suggestions to the Maharashtra government for intra-state workers, and said allowing such migrants to go home could ease the burden on the cities where they are currently stranded.
The bench said the state could conduct a survey and prepare lists of workers having homes within Maharashtra, and they could be medically examined for COVID-19 before getting permission to travel.
Advocate General (AG) Ashutosh Kumbhakoni assured the court that a state-level committee would look into the aspects of intra-state migrant workers and appropriate measures would be taken.
The bench further said that as the Supreme Court was seized of the issue pertaining to inter-state migration of workers and that was to be tackled by the Centre in consultation with the state governments, the High Court would not pass any orders on this at the moment.
The HC asked Maharashtra to constitute taluka-level committees to oversee the distribution of essentials like food, water and medicines to stranded migrants and daily wage workers.
“If the grievance redressal mechanism at the taluka level is provided and if it immediately responds to the complaints about non-availability of water, sanitation, food, shelter, etc., that can be taken care of,” Justice Deshpande noted.
The HC on April 8 had directed the state and district-level committees to verify and oversee grievances in the claims made by the state government that it had started around 4,871 centres and was providing cooked food three times a day to nearly 7.5 lakh migrant workers and daily wagers during the COVID-19 lockdown.
However, on Wednesday, the petitioner NGO Sarva Hara Jan Andolan, through senior counsel Gayatri Singh, told the court that the directions were not being implemented efficiently, and hence thousands of migrants and homeless persons were in dire straits.
To this, AG Kumbhakoni submitted that taluka-level committees will look into the grievances and immediately respond.
Moreover, with several COVID- 19 cases being found in slums and heavily populated areas of Mumbai, the NGO Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao, through advocate Kranti LC, urged the HC to direct the BMC and the state government to give slum-dwellers and the homeless in Mumbai cooked meals, access to mobile toilets, ensure their areas are sanitised, and keep families ordered quarantine at tenements for Project Affected Persons, among other demands.
Justice Deshpande noted that complaints of slum-dwellers and homeless persons can be addressed by the already constituted committees on the taluka and district levels.
The Court noted in the order, “Obviously, some of the stranded workers must be facing problems but presently, unless a survey is conducted and an appropriate decision is taken by the State Government or the Central Government, as the case may be, it is not possible to issue any positive directions.”
The court sought from the state government a survey report and steps for implementation of measures for migrants and slum-dwellers, and posted the matter for further hearing in the first week of May.
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