New Delhi, April 7 (IANS) The Centre on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court it was “on top of the situation” in connection with issues of migrant workers amid the nationwide lockdown, and that the Home Minister is daily monitoring the helpline set up for the workers.
A bench comprising Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justices S.K. Kaul and Deepak Gupta, through video conferencing, said it was not an “expert” body on dealing with health and management issues of migrant workers emerging due to the lockdown, and would rather ask the government to set up helpline for needy people in such a scenario.
The top court also refused to interfere with the government’s policy decision for the next few days.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by two civil rights activists, Harsh Mander and Anjali Bhardwaj, seeking enforcement of fundamental right to life for migrant workers and payment of wages in the absence of work due to the lockdown.
Earlier, the apex court had earlier issued notice to the Centre on this plea.
The court also considered Centre’s response that it was monitoring the situation and set up a helpline number for helping the migrant workers.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted before the bench that Centre was looking into various complaints. “A call centre has been set up. The Home Ministry is daily monitoring the helpline”, said Mehta.
Prashant Bhushan, representing the activists, submitted before the bench that more than 4 lakh migrant workers living in shelter homes, termed it mockery of social distancing.
“If they’re kept in shelter homes, even if one person has coronavirus, then everybody around is prone to contract the viral infection. Migrant workers’ families need money for survival because they are dependent on wages”, contended Bhushan.
The top court said, “We do not plan to supplant the wisdom of the government with our wisdom. We will ask the government to set up a helpline for complaints”.
Bhushan told the apex court that according to their survey report, more than 40% of these workers did not try to migrate, instead living in their own homes in the cities, and they do not have money to afford daily meals.
The Chief Justice questioned that if the migrant workers are being provided meals then “why do they need money for meals?” Bhushan submitted that many are not in shelter homes. “They don’t just need food in shelter homes. They also need money so that that can send it to their families in their villages”, contended Bhushan.
The Chief Justice observed that it is difficult to say at this stage that they are not getting food, and if they are not getting food, then this is something which the court cannot monitor.
The bench also asked Bhushan how he could say the government has not done anything, as he has not seen the status report. Mehta contended except vague assertions, there is no fact in his plea.
The court has posted the matter for further on Monday next week.