Senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala Wednesday moved the Supreme Court seeking to intervene in the matter in which the apex court on its own has taken cognisance of the "unfortunate and miserable" plight of migrant labourers stranded across the country due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Surjewala, an official spokesperson of the Indian National Congress (INC), has said in his plea that the government should set up facilitation centres and facilities at the district and village levels based on the information about hardships faced by the migrant labourers. He said he wanted to apprise the top court of "certain pertinent measures" that may be considered by the Centre in order to alleviate the plight of migrant labourers, stranded or travelling long distances with great difficulty due to the lockdown.
"Further, due to failure of the Government of India to formulate any joint committee with the opposition political parties for addressing issues of stranded migrant labourers, the Government of India has been unable to consider the measures suggested by the applicant (Surjewala) and the opposition party or any member of Parliament not belonging to the ruling dispensation," said the plea, settled by senior advocate A M Singhvi.
Surjewala, in the plea filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes, has suggested that the Centre immediately set up reception and facilitation centres at district and village levels for receiving labourers and facilitating further travel to their native districts or villages.
The plea said: "At present there is no nationwide action plan qua the stranded migrant labourers. To identity and accurately tally the total number of migrant labourers who continue to be stranded, the Government of India needs to carry out an exercise at the district and village level to prepare these lists immediately."
It said that the Centre needs to formulate a nationwide action plan on the basis of information being provided by the labourers regarding the hardship faced and the facilities or actions which helped them during their journey.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan had Tuesday taken suo motu (on its own) cognisance of the plight of migrant labourers stranded across the country and had said that they need "succour and help by the concerned governments" with regard to free food and shelter.
The top court had issued notices to the Centre, all states and Union Territories and sought their replies on the issue by May 28, when the matter is scheduled to be heard.
The development had come a day after several renowned lawyers had written a letter, which was e-mailed to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde, highlighting the plight of migrants workers.
In his application filed in the top court, Surjewala has said, "In view of the fact that stranded migrant labourers have sporadic access to food, medicine and shelter and are presently dependent on largesse of private individuals for the same, the Government of India should immediately formulate a scheme to provide adequate food, medicine and shelter to the stranded migrant labourers."
It said that certain financial reliefs regarding migrant labourers have already been announced by the Centre and those should be implemented on an "urgent and immediate basis" and a public announcement detailing timelines and step-wise procedure of its release should be shared. It said the Centre should formulate urgent and immediate schemes for providing gainful employment to the migrant labourers, with additional and specific schemes which take into consideration the education of their migrant children and well being of family members.
Surjewala, who is also a member of the core committee constituted by the Congress to aid and assist the Centre in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, has said the government should immediately launch awareness campaigns for migrant workers to explain all benefits being provided to alleviate their plight and struggles during the lockdown.
In its order taking cognisance of the plight of migrant workers, the apex court had said, "The adequate transport arrangement, food and shelters are immediately to be provided by the Centre and State Governments free of costs". Although the Centre and states have taken measures to provide them relief, there have been "inadequacies and certain lapses", the court had observed.
It had referred to various media reports showing the "unfortunate and miserable conditions" of migrant labourers walking on-foot and cycles from long distances. The top court had said that the "crises of migrant labourers are even continuing today with large sections still stranded on roads, highways, railway stations and State borders."
Earlier, the top court had disposed of the PIL seeking migrant workers' welfare during the pandemic and consequential lockdown saying that the Centre and states are taking appropriate steps to provide them relief.