Belated, but welcome: On Supreme Court move on migrant workers 

#GS2 #Governance #Judiciary 

It is a matter of relief that the Supreme Court has at last taken cognisance (observation) of the plight(hardships) of millions of inter-State workers looking for transport home and relief from the unrelenting(unending) misery unleashed on them by the lockdown. A three-judge Bench has initiated suo motu( an act of authority taken without formal prompting from another party) proceedings. Proceedings were based on media reports and representations from senior advocates, observing that there have been inadequacies and lapses on the part of the Centre and States in dealing with the crisis faced by workers. 

The Honlble Supreme Court of India while disposing the Writ Petitions No. 468/2020 & 469/2020 in public interest for 
redressal of grievances of migrant labourers in different parts of country has given the following directions: 
i) The migrant workers in Relief 
camps /shelter homes should be 
provided adequate medical 
facilities besides proper 
arrangements for food, clean 
drinking water and sanitation. 
ii) The trained counsellor and/or 
community group leaders belonging 
to all faiths will visit the relief 
camps/shelter homes and deal with 
any consternation that the migrants 
might be going through. This shall 
be done in all the relief camps 
[shelter homes wherever migrants 
are located in the country. A 
detailed guidelines to deal with 
psychosocial issues among migrants 
has been placed on the website of 
the Ministry at the link 
grantsCOVl D19.pdf 
iii) The anxiety and fear of the 
migrants should be understood by 
the Police and other authorities and 
they should deal with the 
migrants in a humane manner. 
iv) The State Governments/Union 
Territories should endeavour to 
engage volunteers along with the 
police to supervise the welfare 
activities of the migrants and all 
concerned to appreciate the 
trepidation of the poor men, 
women and children and treat 
them with kindness. 
All states are accordingly requested 
to take necessary action and 
submit a compliance report to 
the directions of the Honlble 
Supreme Court. 1 
of Health 
ahWFåmily Welfare 


  • It need not have come to this. This could have taken place seven or eight weeks earlier, when petitions were filed before the top court on behalf of those left without any support. 
  • With a kind of self-effacement (quality of not claiming attention for oneself) and self-abnegation (denial or abasement of oneself) not in keeping with its institutional history, the Court had then accepted the government’s sweeping claim that there were no migrants on the roads any more. 
  • And that the initial exodus (mass departure of people) of workers from cities to their home States had been set off by “fake news” to the effect that the lockdown would last for months. 
  • In an unfortunately limited intervention, the Court merely advised the police to treat the workers on the roads with kindness and directed the media to highlight the Centre’s version of the developments. 


  • The Court’s reluctance to intervene may have stemmed from a belief in letting the executive handle the fallout of an unprecedented global crisis. 
  • But, in the process, it abandoned its primary responsibility of protecting fundamental rights, especially of those most vulnerable. 
  • Such was the resultant dismay that retired judges called it out for apparent abdication(rejection) of its duty. 
  • A former High Court judge even said the ghost of ADM Jabalpur was lingering(remaining), in an unflattering reference to an Emergency-era judgment, now mercifully overruled, that held that personal liberty was not absolute during a state of emergency. 
  • TRIVIA- 
  • (The verdict in the ADM Jabalpur vs Shivakant case, popularly known as the Habeas Corpus case, set the tone for countless arrests under the preventive detention law – a provision whereby defendants could not stake a claim to their liberty under extenuating circumstances) 


  • Whether it was shamed into taking cognisance of the issue or it felt that the situation is ripe for intervention, one should now expect the Court to take a more critical look at the government’s lapses, and emulate(copy) the stellar(amazing) role that High Courts are playing in holding administrations accountable. 
  • The top court must now find out if the Centre, which imposed a stringent lockdown to buy time for preparing the health infrastructure, had discharged its responsibilities. 
  • It may even lay down guidelines for planning, coordination and establishment of a mechanism to address the economic and humanitarian consequences of such actions in future. 


  • The government should also do more than asking its law officers to fulminate(protest) against activists, denounce the media and question the patriotism of those critical of its actions. 
  • A national tragedy requires a more statesmanlike response. After taking note of pandemic-induced crisis, SC must now enforce rights of the vulnerable. 
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