The Supreme Court on Thursday pulled up the Maharashtra government for filing a vague affidavit in the suo motu case pertaining to the plight of migrant workers during the coronavirus-induced lockdown, Live Law reported. A bench, headed by Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah, said the Maharashtra government must file a detailed affidavit apprising the court of the real problems migrants face.
Hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers began journeys home on foot in March, after the Centre imposed a countrywide lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Some died on the way due to illness.
“Not an adversarial litigation. Duty of state to highlight and act on lapses,” the bench said. “State of Maharashtra to file an affidavit regarding details of migrants awaiting to return to state of Maharashtra by next week.” The bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Maharashtra government, to “better advise” the state in filing the affidavit.
In the affidavit already filed, the Shiv Sena-led government had claimed that there was no migrant crisis in the state, however, the court pointed out that a large number of migrant workers were still in Maharashtra, PTI reported.
“Your affidavit is not up to the mark,” the court responded. “The affidavit required to be filed was not for making statements on your behalf. We can’t accept the state’s claim that there is no problem in the state of Maharashtra. You [solicitor general] must advise the state to file a better one.” Mehta agreed to do so and added that he would personally do the vetting of the state’s new affidavit.
Mehta told the court that the Maharashtra government had provided a list to the Centre of the migrants who wanted to travel back to their hometowns. However, he added, some migrants have decided to stay back as the state opened up employment opportunities by relaxing the lockdown. He said since May 1, around 3,50,000 workers came back to work in Maharashtra.
On June 9, the Supreme Court had told the Centre that all migrants should be sent back to their hometowns within 15 days. The bench also ordered the Centre to provide additional “Shramik Special” trains within 24 hours of requests by states, so that migrant labourers could be sent back home soon. The Centre had launched over 300 of these trains from May 1.
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Bihar government, seconded Mehta’s argument that migrants were returning to their places of work. He said most trains originating from Patna to other cities are running full.
The bench said it is the responsibility of the Maharashtra government to find out which migrants are getting food, shelter and transport facilities, and those who are deprived of them. On May 28, the Supreme Court had observed that there were several problems in the process of registration, transportation and providing water and food to the migrants.
The case was then adjourned to July 17.
Supreme Court takes up PIL on ‘National Covid Plan’
On Thursday, the Supreme Court also took up a public interest litigation on framing a “National Covid Plan”, to which the central government responded. Mehta stated that a national plan termed “Covid Containment Plan” was already on record, and a copy of the plan would be sent to the petitioners by Friday evening.
On Thursday, India’s coronavirus tally rose to 7,67,296, with 24,879 new cases in 24 hours. The toll went up by 487 to 21,129. More than 4.76 lakh people have recovered.