The Supreme Court on Thursday pulled up the Maharashtra government for claiming that every thing was fine on the issue of migrant workers and said that it is the duty of the state to find out shortcomings and lapses wherever found and to do the needful.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M R Shah said it does not "appreciate the tenor" and the claims made and asked the state to file a fresh affidavit listing the steps taken to mitigate the problems of migrant workers amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“We have gone through the affidavit filed by the State of Maharashtra dated July 6, 2020. 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 out 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 bench said.
The top court also asked the Maharashtra government to reply to the interlocutory petition filed by two NGOs ‘Sarva Hara Jan Andolan' and ‘Delhi Sharmik Sangathan' claiming that migrant workers are still awaiting return to their home town.
During the hearing of the case taken up suo motu (on its own) by the top court on the miseries of migrant workers during the COVID-19 lockdown, the bench said: “What is happening in Maharashtra? Large number of migrant workers are still in the state."
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state, said that the latest affidavit has been filed on July 6 in compliance with the apex court's order.
He said that a list was provided to the Centre with regard to migrant workers who have been sent to their native places by the state.
Mehta said the crux of the affidavit was that the migrants who wanted to leave earlier have now decided to stay back as the state opened up employment opportunities and since May 1, around 3,50,000 workers came back to work in Maharashtra again.
The bench said it is the responsibility of the state to find out which group of migrants are getting food, transport and other facilities or not getting them.
Mehta said that whoever wanted to shift has been shifted and those who went back may not be getting jobs as per their skills, like a carpenter cannot work as a labourer in an agricultural field.
“Your affidavit is not up to the mark... We cannot accept the State's claim that there is no problem in the State of Maharashtra. They have treated this as an adversarial litigation. You (Mehta) must advise them to file a proper affidavit by next date of hearing,” the bench said.
Mehta said he would do so and personally do the vetting of the state's affidavit and ensure that more relevant details are provided on the issue.
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for Bihar government said that reverse migration has started happening in the state and most of the trains originating from Patna to other cities are running full.
Meanwhile, the top court tagged the PIL filed by NGO CPIL, seeking various reliefs including a national plan on COVID-19 management with the suo motu case.
During the hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal said there is a theoretical national plan on COVID-19 management and wanted Mehta to place it on record.
Mehta said the plan has already been placed on record in other matter.
The bench accepted his contention and told Sibal that this issue has come up earlier as well and now they have placed the plan on record.
Sibal said that they need a system in place which is in consonance with the Statutes, in this case it is a national plan.
The bench asked Mehta to supply the copy of the COVID-19 management plan to Sibal and senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing in the matter.
Singhvi said he wanted to give some suggestions and rehabilitation should work in tandem and registration of migrant labour should not be the basis for availing government schemes as it excludes lots of people.
The bench posted the matter for further hearing on July 17.
On June 19, the top court had asked the Centre and all the State to ensure that all stranded migrant workers willing to return must be sent to their native places without any fare being charged from them.
The top court, on June 9 had directed the Centre and state governments to identify and send back within 15 days by train or bus the stranded migrant workers willing to return to their native place, and also asked them to help the returnees find jobs lost during the national lockdown.
Noting there have been instances of “excess" by police and paramilitary personnel against the migrant workers, the court also asked authorities to consider “withdrawal” of criminal cases against some of them for violating social distancing norms.
The top court, which had on May 28 passed a slew of directions including asking the states not to charge any fare from the returning workers, had noted that fresh requests for 171 ‘Shramik Special' trains have been made so far by the states from the Centre, and directed that any additional demand be fulfilled by the Railways within “a period of 24 hours”.