A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking direction to authorities to allow migrant workers across the country to return home after conducting necessary COVID-19 tests and also arrange their safe travel by providing necessary transportation.
The plea said that in wake of the extension of the nationwide lockdown, the migrant workers who are among the worst affected category of people must be allowed to go back to their homes after being tested for COVID-19.
The plea filed by Jagdeep S Chhokar, former director in-charge of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and Gaurav Jain, a lawyer, said those migrant workers who test negative for COVID-19 must not be forcefully kept in shelters or away from their homes and families against their wishes.
“In view of the facts and circumstances, it is submitted by the petitioners herein that, now, when the second period of nationwide lockdown has been announced for a period of April 15 to May 3, the state authorities must arrange for the safe travel of those migrant workers who wish to go back to their native villages and hometowns in other states,” the plea said.
The petition, settled by advocate Prashant Bhushan, said there is a large number of migrant workers who wish to go back to their native villages, and this was evident from the sudden rush in the wake of the initial 21-days national lockdown announced on March 24, that led to uncontrollable chaos at various bus terminals.
“It is submitted that recently there have been media reports which show that migrant workers are protesting on streets in some places due to non-payment of their wages and demanding to return to their native villages. It is further submitted that there have been various media reports which show that the migrant workers are being harassed by the local residents and even beaten in some cases,” it said.
The petition said that although the national lockdown has been necessitated because of the unprecedented pandemic of COVID-19 and its imposition is much needed, it is submitted by the petitioners that the fundamental right of the migrant workers enshrined under Article 19(1)(d) (right to move freely throughout India) and Article 19(1 )(e) of the Constitution (right to reside and settle in any part of India) cannot be suspended for an indefinite period.
It said that these migrant workers cannot be forced to stay away from their families and living in unpredictable and arduous conditions, as the same is an unreasonable restriction beyond what is envisaged under Article 19(5) of the Constitution.
“Further, as this extension of lockdown is casting an unreasonable and heavier burden on the migrant workers who are stranded in cities of their migration as compared to those who are living with their own families at their own residences, the same is also violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” it said.
The petition said that necessary transport services may be provided by the state governments in abundance so that the purpose of ‘social distancing’ is not defeated.
“Further, necessary arrangements for testing of COVID-19 can be made for all those migrant workers who wish to travel to their native places, either in the state of their departure or in the state of their arrival,” it said.