While saying that “this institution is not hostage of the government”, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to reply within a week on a petition seeking direction to authorities to allow stranded migrant workers across the country to return home.
The Supreme Court’s remark came after advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioners Jagdeep S Chhokar, former director in-charge of IIM, Ahmedabad, and lawyer Gaurav Jain, said the government had shut its eyes to the plight of the migrants and their fundamental rights were not being enforced.
To this, a bench of Justices NV Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai asked Bhushan as to why should the court hear him if he does not have faith in the system. “You don’t have faith in judiciary. This institution is not hostage of government,” the apex court said.
Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the government was very much concerned with the issue and trying to provide all possible help to migrant workers. Mehta also said Bhushan should not be under the impression that he was the only one concerned with enforcement of fundamental rights.
“It’s for the government to decide…Every time Mr Bhushan looses, he goes to the lawn and says this is a black day. Can’t run the government as PIL petitioner,” Mehta said.
Highlighting the distress situation faced by the migrant workers during the lockdown, Bhushan said more than 90 per cent of them had not received ration or wages. “They are in desperate situation and should be allowed to go to their native places,” he said.
Mehta however said that these are incorrect reports and questioned the basis of the data given by the petitioners. He said the Centre was consulting states on the issue as to how many of migrant workers have to be transported.
Bhushan urged the court to allow inter-state transportation of migrant workers, which was objected to by Mehta saying that it was for the government to look into all aspects keeping the larger interest of people in mind.
The development comes amid states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan bringing back migrant workers stuck in other states and a coordinated exercise to this effect has already begun.
Interestingly, on April 19, MHA had issued detailed standard operating procedures allowing movement of migrant labour within a state. It had asked states to arrange for their transport and food and water during transit to workplace. It, however, prohibited inter-state transfer of migrant labour.