The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday refused to pass any directions to the government on the Public Interest Litigation petition filed by Advocate Prashant Bhushan and activists Harsh Mander & Anjali Bharadwaj seeking payment of minimum wages to migrant daily-wage workers during the 21-day lockdown period imposed by the government during the COVID-19 outbreak.
A bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Deepak Gupta stated that the Supreme Court cannot take a better policy decision than the government at this stage and therefore will not be inclined to interfere in any government decisions for the next few weeks. Prashant Bhushan, arguing for the petitioners told the bench that more than 4 lakh persons are being kept in shelter homes currently and this is when almost 40% of the workers did not even choose to migrate back to their home states. “Many of these people need money to send back home to their families living in villages,” Bhushan told Supreme Court.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was also a part of the hearing representing the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that the MHA was looking into all complaints being received by it from migrant workers. “A helpline has been set up which is monitoring the complaints on a daily basis” Mehta told Supreme Court. The Chief Justice of India expressed the inability of the Supreme Court to delve into finer aspects of the welfare of the migrant workers stating that the Supreme Court cannot look into what kind of food was being provided to the migrant workers. CJI also stated “we don’t plan to surpass the wisdom of the government with our own wisdom”.
A report was also submitted by the Centre before the Supreme Court giving details of the steps being taken by the MHA to tackle the concerns of the migrant workers and managing their well-being. The Supreme Court asked Prashant Bhushan, along with the other petitioners to go through the report submitted by the Centre and adjourned the hearing on the issue until next week even as Bhushan objected stating that “many people would die” by then. The hearing will now take place on Monday.