In its status report submitted earlier, the Centre had said that all the steps were being taken for the welfare and benefit of migrant workers.
The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre as to what steps it has taken to address the issues related to payment of wages to migrant workers employed in private industries and those rendered unemployed in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justice L N Rao, while hearing a batch of petitions related to the plight of migrant workers via video conferencing, asked solicitor general Tushar Mehta whether the Centre was taking measures for payment of wages or for providing some income to workers who have no means to support themselves during the lockdown.
“What steps are being taking for these migrant labourers? What are the minimum wages given? How you are taking care of these migrant labourers? The Delhi government has announced `5,000 for each. But what is the Centre doing?” the apex court asked.
Mehta said rice and other food products are being provided to them without restricting these to the ration card entitlements.
The Judges told the SG that they have seen the government’s affidavit and they “appreciate the way food, shelter, etc are being provided. But are you thinking about giving them some income?”
The government has “done what was the priority. We have taken immediate steps first,” Mehta said. As the SG referred to a status report filed by the Centre, which details the amount of money released towards being deposited in the accounts of daily wage workers through a direct benefit scheme, Justice Rao said that they don’t have the documents and posted the matter for further hearing on Monday.
However, counsel Prashant Bhushan objected to the adjournment, contending that four crore migrant workers need wages and blamed the government for not doing enough. “These people are in bad state. 4 crore people are in distress. Look at Germany, Italy, France! They have announced aid packages to the poor people. Why isn’t the Indian government doing this,?” Bhushan said.
The Judges said: “you yourself know, we can’t order what you are demanding. You say there are 4 crore people. How can we order `5,000 per person. We don’t have the documents you are referring to! How can we pass directions to make any payment? If we have to pass all the directions that are there in your petition we will have to start running the government,” the Bench asked Bhushan.
The Court, however, said that the pandemic is an unprecedented problem of large magnitude and while the government is taking necessary steps, this is not a problem that can be solved in one day.
In its status report submitted earlier, the Centre had said that all the steps were being taken for the welfare and benefit of migrant workers. It had submitted that no migrant workers were left stranded on roads and that they were being lodged in shelter homes. The Court had then passed directions to make sure that the inmates in these shelter homes are provided with adequate food, water and medicines.