Though it is the responsibility of government to take care of migrant workers, the contribution and role played by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) “deserves all appreciation” for coming forward to help them by providing food, water and transport during the “difficult time” of COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.
The Supreme Court also praised the individuals who contributed and played an important role in extending a helping hand to the migrants and said the society, which was moved by their miseries and difficulties, has exhibited its “passion and devotion“.
“Although it is the responsibility and duty of the States and Union Territories to take care of the needs of the migrant labourers, in this difficult time non-governmental organisations and individuals have also contributed and played an important role in extending a helping hand to the migrants,” the Bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and M R Shah said.
“Non-governmental organisations coming forward to help the migrant workers and to fight the pandemic and extend help by providing food, water and transportation at their cost deserves all appreciation,” the Bench said in its 30-page order by which it also directed all States and Union territories (UTs) to transport all the stranded workers to their respective destinations by train, bus or other modes within 15 days from today.
It also said there was a need for States and Union Territories to streamline the vigilance and supervision of actions of their officers and staff for taking appropriate action so that the measures and schemes reach the beneficiaries.
The Court, which has taken suo motu (on its own) cognizance on the plights of migrant workers during the coronavirus-triggered lockdown period, noted that during the arguments in the matter it was brought before it that various High Courts across the country have also taken notice of cases of migrant labourers.
“High Courts being constitutional courts are well within their jurisdiction to take cognizance of violation of fundamental rights of migrant workers and we have no doubt that those proceedings shall proceed after considering all aspects including the response of concerned authorities,” the Bench said.
The Court noted that States and UTs have claimed before that they have been following the orders, guidelines, policies and decisions of the Centre as well as the concerned authorities and are taking necessary steps in this regard.
“There can be no exception to the policies and intentions of the State but what is important is that those on whom implementation of circulars, policies and schemes are entrusted are efficiently and correctly implementing those schemes,” the Bench observed.
It said that lapses and short-comings in implementing the schemes and policies have been highlighted before it by various intervenors in the matter.
“The responsibility of the States/Union Territories is not only to refer their policy, measures contemplated and funds allocated but there has to be strict vigilance and supervision as to whether those measures, schemes and benefits reach those to whom they are meant,” the Bench said.
“We impress on States and Union Territories to streamline the vigilance and supervision of actions of their officers and staff and take appropriate action where required,” the Bench said.
The Supreme Court had on May 28 directed that no fare be charged from any migrant workers for their travel either by train or bus.
It had directed that migrant workers should be provided “food free of cost” by the States and UTs while waiting for their turn to board train or bus after being stranded following the lockdown.