On Supreme Court’s move on migrant workers

  • IASbaba
  • May 30, 2020
  • 0
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Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Structure, organization and functioning of the Judiciary 
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors

On Supreme Court’s move on migrant workers

Context: The Supreme Court took cognisance of the plight of millions of inter-State workers looking for transport home & relief from the crisis. It has given directives to mitigate the sufferings of these people.

Did you know?

  • The most acute problem during lockdown was faced by migrant labourers as they had no work, no source of income, no access to basic necessities, no quality testing facilities, no protective gear, and no means to reach home
  • Between May 1 and 27 total of 3,700 special trains were arranged by Union government for carrying nearly 50 lakh migrant workers to their home states

Criticism of Supreme Court (SC) during initial period of lockdown

  • Against spirit of PILS: Petitions were filed before SC on behalf of migrant workers so as to provide directives to executive to provide relief to them. However, SC refused to admit these petitions or adjourned them
  • Matter of Policy: SC remarked that the condition of migrant labourers is a matter of policy and thus, does not require judicial interference
  • Not in line with Institutional history: There are numerous judgments where SC has laid out matters of policy. Ex: The Vishaka guidelines on sexual harassment in the workplace; the right to food; and various environmental protection policies.
  • Failure to question Executive: Solicitor-General argued that the exodus of workers was due to fake news. Apex Court accepted this without digging deeper, and advised media houses to report more responsibly.
  • Failure to perform Constitutional Duty: By not acting early, the SC has failed to adequately perform as a constitutional court in safeguarding the rights of people.
  • A former High Court judge recalled ADM Jabalpur case (now overruled) that held that personal liberty was not absolute during a state of emergency.
  • Islands of Hope: When SC failed to act, High Courts (Karnataka, Madras, AP and Gujarat) asked questions to State governments about migrant rights and held these administrations accountable

Recent Developments

  • Three-judge Bench of SC initiated suo motu proceedings based on media reports and representations from senior advocates
  • SC observed that there have been inadequacies and lapses on the part of the Centre and States in dealing with the crisis faced by workers
  • It has provided directives to Centre and states (which could have taken place 7-8 weeks earlier) so as to cater to the miseries faced by migrant workers

What were the Supreme Court’s order on migrant?

  • Responsibility of Railways: As and when the state governments put in a request for trains for transport of migrant workers, railways has to provide them. 
  • Free Service: No fare for train or bus shall be charged from migrant workers. The fare will be shared by the states.
  • Free Food: The originating state shall provide meals and water at the station and during the journey, the Railways would provide the same to the migrant workers. 
  • Information Sharing: The state shall oversee the registration of migrant workers and ensure that after registration, they board the train or bus at an early date. Complete information should be provided to all concerned.
  • Ensure Care: Those migrant workers found walking on the roads, should be immediately taken to shelters and provided food and all facilities.

Way Ahead

  • After registration, migrants should not have to wait for a long time for their turns to come. Hence, the need to increase the number of trains
  • SC must now find out if the Centre, which imposed a stringent lockdown to buy time for preparing the health infrastructure, had discharged its responsibilities.
  • SC may even lay down guidelines for planning, coordination and establishment of a mechanism to address the inter-state issues arising out of pandemic


All three branches of the State must realise that facilitating the movement of the migrants is not an act of charity, it is their duty and responsibility.

Connecting the dots:

  • Judicial Activism vs Judicial Overreach
  • Separation of Powers and Doctrine of Checks & Balances

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